Hiking and being outdoors is not only refreshing, but extremely rewarding. There are countless benefits of spending time outdoors and in the wilderness. We all need to take the time to reap the emotional, mental, and physical benefits from adventuring out into the mountains.
1. It's a mood booster.
Being outdoors and hiking is a well-known stress reliever. There are no worries in the forest -- just wide-open space and few people. When you're feeling anxious or stressed, get up and get outside. Completing a hike can be a total confidence-booster. Hiking can be a very empowering experience, especially when you conquer the hardest trails and reach your destination. It will elevate your mood and make you feel better no matter what demons you may be facing. This is one of the most positive and natural ways to cope with anxiety and stress. Nature doesn't care about what you look like, how much money you have, how much education and knowledge you have, what your career is, or any other aspect of your life. The best part about being outdoors is that you don't have to worry about what anyone else thinks of you; you can just be your 100% authentic self.
The great thing about getting outside is that there are so many different activities you can choose from, and every single outdoor activity can be scaled down to fit one's needs. You don't have to be an expert hiker to get outside. Start with what you have and with what you know and you will improve from there. Hiking is a great exercise and individuals of all fitness levels can participate. Start off with a shorter hike with less elevation, take your time and enjoy your surroundings. The more often you hike, the more confident you will be with the more challenging trails. The most important thing is getting outside and enjoying yourself.
3. Fresh air.
Fresh air is good for the soul. Once you're deep enough into the woods, there's a certain smell and freshness to the air that you can't find anywhere else. Being away from people and surrounded by the forest is a calming feeling. There's a quietness about nature that brings an overwhelming sense of peace. You get the chance to clear your mind and decompress. Rejuvenate your body and soul and take a moment to relax, let go of your insecurities and worries. Just be.
4. You learn to settle into your surroundings.
After I moved from my hometown where I've lived my entire life to a new city, one of the first things I did was get out and explore. Being in a new place and not knowing anybody or anything can be extremely daunting. It doesn't matter if you've lived somewhere for five years or five weeks; there are so many beautiful things to see and places to explore. By simply getting outside and taking in your surroundings, you can feel more connected to your environment and community as a whole.
5. It's a great way to connect with others.
Hiking can strengthen relationships and bring families and friends closer together. Instead of going out to lunch or go shopping with your family, pack everyone up and hit a trail. Everyone knows making friends can be hard, but when you and others both enjoy being outside and exploring, you can bond over your love of the earth and outdoors. I have made great friends and created stronger bonds with my family members by simply spending time outdoors together.
6. It's easily accessible.
Hiking is virtually free. You don't need fancy gear or equipment and you don't have to be an expert on the outdoors. There are numerous recreation passes and permits that need to be purchased for parking at certain trailheads. If that's your biggest expense, then $30 a year doesn't seem too excessive for all that you gain from the mountains. If $30 isn't in your budget, split it with some friends and family; you can put multiple license plate numbers on the permit. The money spent on recreation passes goes into the forest fund and they use this money for trail maintenance and other projects. For the most part, all you have to do is get to a trailhead and start walking. Just be sure to quickly educate yourself on how to have a safe and successful hike, and you're good to go.
7. You get a break from reality.
These days, we have smart phones and tablets loaded with social media apps. We are constantly texting, emailing, calling, FaceTiming, tweeting, Facebooking, Snapchatting and everything in between. Being away from cell service and the internet is extremely freeing. When you're outside and away from all of the distractions in life, it gives you time to contemplate and meditate. While hiking back down a trail, I always try to slow down and take in my surroundings, because the moment you get back to your car and drive home, you slip back into the busyness of life.
8. You gain independence.
Whether you're hiking, biking or walking, there are so many different activities that you can do independently. Learning how to enjoy time alone and away from others is extremely important because in the end, all you have is yourself. Spend time outside and learn more about yourself; be sure to take the time to find some clarity from within. Solo-hikes are a great way to familiarize yourself with nature. It's a warming feeling to journey deep into the woods alone and rely solely on yourself and your instincts.
9. Nature's beauty.
There are millions of trails on this planet waiting to be explored. The average life expectancy for Americans is about 80 years old, which translates to about 4,171 weeks, 29,200 days and 42,048,000 minutes. As cliche as it sounds, life is short. Enjoy all of the beauty that this world has to offer while you still can. Don't forget that our time here is limited and you choose how you spend each minute of every day. I encourage you to slow down and spend more time outdoors and don't take your time on earth for granted. Learning to be comfortable in your own skin, to be confident in your skills and capabilities and learning how to unapologetically be yourself are some of the benefits of spending time in the wilderness. You feel a sense of home and belonging when you're out in nature. Take in this feeling and apply it to your everyday life, and spread it to those you meet and better the entire planet. There's so much beauty in this world -- all you have to do is look around.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir