Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in America and around the world. Every year, 1 in 5 deaths in women is caused by heart disease, but it can be prevented through education and making a healthy lifestyle change. This February for American Heart Month, be good to your heart by giving it some extra love and attention and head outside for some well-deserved self-care. Learn more about the benefits of hiking on your mental and physical health.
Stay active outdoors for heart health
According to expert content contributor & medical professional Rebecca Thompson, MD, “One of the most important factors in health–and particularly in heart health–is keeping our bodies and minds active. Spending time in the outdoors is a great way to do this. When we start with young children, teaching them to be comfortable traveling under their own power while moving through varied terrain, we set them up for a lifetime of feeling at home in all sorts of environments. Being outdoors boosts vitamin D levels, fosters better sleep, and promotes more social connectedness–all of which have been repeatedly linked in scientific studies to decreased cardiovascular disease risk. Choosing active outdoor time can even strengthen whole communities, bringing people together in shared spaces and instilling an appreciation for the natural world that will pass down through generations.”
Hitting the hiking trails is a great way for anyone to get a healthy dose of outdoor time.
“There’s something in the outdoors for everyone, from a vigorous trek up a mountainside to a quiet picnic by a stream to a stroll on a smooth, paved trail for those who have more difficulty negotiating uneven ground. Exploring the options in your neighborhood and beyond is the first step toward discovering what inspires you to make outdoor activities a regular part of your family’s life,” adds Thompson.
3 benefits of hiking for a healthy heart
1. Finding your zen
There’s a calm that comes with being on the trail. Whether you’re trekking deep in the woods, walking among open meadows, strolling trails that hug coastal cliffs or scrambling to summit a peak, there’s a unique peace that you can’t find anywhere else. Relax … and don’t rush yourself in nature. Forget about your to-do list and enjoy being in the moment. Make time to treat yourself to some fresh air and a slow pace. We live in a world overstimulated by technology and nonstop activities, so it’s good practice to carve out some intentional time to get on trail and encourage those happy endorphins with some exercise.
2. Building strength
Exercise helps wake sleepy muscles and gets your joints back in motion. In fact, if you’ve never hiked before or have only occasionally hiked, now is as good a time as any to start hiking regardless of your fitness level. Thanks to the various slopes, the muscles used most in hiking are glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, lower back, and obliques among others – especially your heart. And carrying a pack or even your child in a carrier helps strengthen those core and leg muscles, as well as increases your endurance. You can also give the gift of heart health to family members, especially littles who can learn to walk on different terrain and grandparents who may not be as active as they use to be. And once you’re feeling stronger and more confident, set goals to hike farther and faster or do more challenging hikes to get your heart pumping.
3. Bonding with others
Time spent with others on trail also makes a positive impact on your heart happiness. When life gets busy, taking time to get outside with loved ones is just what the doctor ordered. It’s a good reminder to slow down and spend quality time together without distractions. Plus, having your kiddos on trail with you is a great way to model for them the benefits of exercise on your heart and mind. In addition, having multiple generations together in nature helps build connections with each other and bridge the age gap. Similarly, relationships between siblings who spend time together on trail also strengthen as they learn to lead, follow, depend on each other and encourage each other to try new adventures.
Another way to impact your heart happiness is to invite some of your pals to join you on a ladies- or guys-only hiking and camping trip. Not only will you escape into nature together for some much-needed pal time away from the hustle and bustle of work, parenthood or life in general, but you’ll also get some great exercise with great company. Besides doing your own heart a favor, you’ll also promote a healthy and active lifestyle among your friends and maybe hook one or two to join you on your journey to a healthier heart. Here are some tips for how to set up a memorable ladies’ weekend camping trip.
Share with us how you find your Happy in nature in the comments below.
About Hike it Baby
Hike it Baby is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to getting families outdoors and on trails across the U.S. and internationally, supporting, educating and inspiring families through their more than 300 communities across North America. Since its grassroots inception in 2013 in Portland, Oregon, Hike it Baby is now a growing community of 270,000 families and 500 volunteer branch ambassadors hosting more than 1,600 hikes per month. More information, as well as daily hike schedules, can be found at HikeitBaby.com, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Photo by Ashley Scheider.