Hey there! As we welcome the warmer weather, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about hitting the trails. I love hiking.

It’s a fantastic way to exercise, clear your mind, and have fun exploring the outdoors.

Whether climbing to a stunning viewpoint or just enjoying a stroll through the woods, hiking offers something special you can’t get from any other activity.

In this post, we’re going to dive into all the incredible benefits that hiking has to offer your body & your mind.

We’ll also share tips on preparing for various hikes, and essential nutrition & exercise to keep you energized.

Lace up your boots, and get ready to make the most of your hiking adventures!

Key Takeaways:

  • Hiking is an excellent activity for enhancing memory, mood, and overall cognitive function.
  • Hiking positively affects the brain by increasing the size of the hippocampus, promoting the growth of new neurons, and enhancing neural connections.
  • Spending time in nature improves creativity, problem-solving skills, and mental wellness.
  • Hiking builds muscle strength, improves balance, and promotes overall physical fitness.
  • Preparing your body for hiking with targeted exercises can maximize the benefits and reduce the risk of injuries.

Benefits of Hiking

As the youngest of four, I was lucky to start hiking early—my mom loved it and often took us hiking to many parks in the Mid-Atlantic region.

When I was 7, I did a 20-mile hike with my mom & siblings, so my oldest brother could earn a merit badge for scouts. He still says to this day that I never whined!

Hiking isn’t just a universal activity; it also holds a special place in various cultures. Take Japan, for instance, with its practice of “Shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing.”

If your parents said to you when you were little, “Let’s go take a bath in the woods”, it would probably catch your attention.

Alright, let’s dive right into the good stuff—how hiking truly benefits your body and brain!

Stronger Muscles & Bones

First up, let’s talk about the physical perks of hitting the trails. Hiking is a powerhouse when it comes to building and toning muscles.

Hiking on uneven ground engages different muscles from those you would use on flat, man-made surfaces.

As you climb those hills and navigate different terrains, you’re strengthening muscles in your hips, knees, and ankles that normally don’t get much use. This improves your balance and stability.

In fact, a study showed hiking on irregular surfaces increases the amount of energy your body uses by 28% compared to walking on flat ground.

Each step is different. Your heart rate and metabolism go up, and you burn more calories.

If you carry a backpack (even a light one!), you’re ramping up the workout. To transform the hike into rucking, start with 10-15% of your body weight added to your pack.

Either way hiking with the extra load helps to improve your bone density & strength.

Hiking is also fantastic for your heart. It gets your blood pumping and improves your cardiovascular health.

Why Hiking is Good for Your Brain

Now, onto the brain gains.

Did you know that hiking can seriously cut down on stress? Yep, just being out in nature and leaving the daily grind behind can help calm your mind and reduce anxiety.

It does this by reducing the overactivity of your amygdala. Your amygdala is responsible for the perception of emotions & activating your fight or flight response.

If your amygdala is on overdrive, you may have increased feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear.

But that’s not all—regular hikes can enhance your mood and keep your mental health in tip-top shape.

When it comes to your noggin, it also improves cognitive functions like memory, attention, and the ability to focus.

The hippocampus (in the temporal lobe of your brain), vital for memory and navigation, is engaged when hiking challenging terrains like slippery rocks and uneven paths, making subconscious adjustments to movement.

Originally evolved to help us locate food and avoid danger, it risks atrophy without proper exercise.

However, studies show that outdoor activities can stimulate and grow the hippocampus, providing a mini workout that keeps the brain sharp and active.

Keeping Your Balance

Hiking isn’t just about walking on a flat, easy trail; it often involves uneven surfaces that require you to adjust your footing. This is great for your brain.

The need to maintain balance stimulates your cerebellum, the part of your brain that handles coordination and motor control.

Plus, tackling different terrains promotes neuroplasticity—this means your brain is adapting and growing, literally getting better at its job of keeping you balanced and focused.

Mindfulness and Meditation

When you think of meditation, you might picture sitting quietly in a room with your eyes closed. But guess what?

Hiking is like a meditation on the move!

Being out on the trail gives you a perfect chance to practice mindfulness, which is all about being present in the moment.

So how do you do it? Start by really tuning into your surroundings—listen to the crunch of leaves under your boots, feel the breeze on your face, and notice the different shades of green in the trees and the sounds of birds chirping.

It’s all about soaking in the details and letting the rest of the world fade away.

Practicing this kind of mindfulness while hiking can help calm your mind, reduce stress, and make you feel more at peace.

It’s like hitting a reset button for your brain, helping you ditch the stress and come back feeling refreshed.

Creativity and Problem-solving

Hiking can also be a major boost to your brain’s creative juices. Ever notice how some of your best ideas come when you’re taking a shower or just waking up?

That’s because your brain is relaxed. Well, hiking has the same effect—it lets your mind wander freely without distractions.

Being out in nature, away from technology and the constant pings of social media, can help you think more clearly. It’s like each step on the trail helps dust off the cobwebs in your mind, giving you space to think about things differently.

Plus, the physical activity of hiking increases blood flow to your brain, which can improve cognitive functions and make you sharper and more ready to tackle challenges.

So not only are you building up your leg muscles, you’re also flexing your brain muscles!

Different Types of Hikes

Whether you’re planning a casual stroll through a local park or gearing up for a challenging trek across mountain ranges, knowing how to prepare can make all the difference.

Let’s break down the different types of hikes and some seasonal tips to keep you trekking happily all year round!

Types of Hikes:

1. Day Hikes: These are your go-to for a quick nature fix. Day hikes can range from easy walks to more challenging routes you finish on the same day.

2. Backpacking: This is hiking while you carry all your camping gear with you! Trips can last a couple of days to several weeks.

3. Summit Pushes: These hikes are all about reaching the top of a mountain. They can be part of a day hike or a longer expedition. The thrill of standing at the summit is unmatched, but getting there requires good physical condition, proper gear, and sometimes technical climbing skills.

4. Thru-hikes: For the ultimate hiking enthusiast, thru-hikes cover long distances that traverse multiple environments and can take several months to complete. Think of trails like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.

Seasonal Tips:

Spring: The trails come alive with blooming flowers and flowing streams, but they can also be muddy and slippery. Waterproof gear and good trail shoes are must-haves to handle wet conditions. Also, keep an eye out for lingering snow on higher trails.

Summer: Heat and sun exposure are your main concerns during summer hikes. Lightweight, breathable clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen are essential. Also, hike in the cooler parts of the day to avoid heat exhaustion.

Autumn: This is many hikers’ favorite season due to the cooler temperatures and beautiful fall foliage. Layers are crucial as temperatures can change quickly. Also, shorter days mean you should plan to start early and have a headlamp handy.

Winter: Hiking in winter can be magical with snow-covered landscapes, but it also comes with challenges like cold temperatures and shorter days. Dress in layers, use insulated boots, and carry navigation tools as trails can be harder to follow.

Preparing well for your hike, regardless of the type or season, means you can focus on enjoying the experience rather than worrying about what you forgot to bring.

Nutrition and Hiking

Fueling your body right is just as important as having a good pair of hiking boots. Let’s talk about what you should pack to keep your energy up from the start of your hike to the end.


Staying hydrated is crucial, especially on warmer or more strenuous hikes. Here are some tips to keep you watered well:

Start Hydrated: Drink water before you even start hiking. If you’re hydrated before you go, you’ll be in a better position to maintain hydration.

Carry Enough Water: A good rule of thumb is about a half-liter of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. Adjust this based on heat and your sweat rate.

Electrolytes Are Key: Bring a sports drink or electrolyte mix to replenish salts lost through sweat. Easy to bring in a pack are Nuuns, LMNT, & DripDrop.

Snacks During Hike

It is a good idea to try & bring something from each category below. Most important is to take the food that you will eat!

Salt: pretzels, crackers, jerky, salted nuts, and trail mix. Chex mix, Fritos, sun chips, or salted peanut butter-filled pretzel nuggets are good choices.

Potassium: bananas, oranges, apricots, kiwi

Magnesium: almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, figs

Protein: Nut butter (comes in single packets), string cheese, sliced cheese, tuna pouches, jerky, and protein bars.

Carbs: Superseed crackers, pretzel nuggets, popcorn

When I hike, I like bringing nut butter, pretzel nuggets, trail mix (my version), crackers, bananas & oranges.

Sometimes I will also make a sandwich with protein & cheese on whole-grain bread. I often throw in extra protein bars in case we are out longer than planned.

Post-hike Recovery:

After a long hike, your body needs to recover. Here’s how to help it along:

Protein: Help your muscles repair with a protein-rich snack. Think a chicken sandwich, a protein shake, or a serving of Greek yogurt.

Carbs: Yes, your body needs carbs to recover energy stores. A rice bowl, pasta, or even a piece of fruit can help.

Hydration: Keep drinking water even after you’re done hiking. If you’ve been sweating a lot, consider a drink with electrolytes.

Remember, what you eat and drink can impact how you feel during and after your hike.

Did you know that the most vulnerable hikers to being injured or worse are Day hikers?

This is usually due to a lack of planning for food, water, and gear. Even short hikes at national parks have proven to be deadly.

So, plan your meals and snacks like you plan your route—carefully and thoughtfully. That way, you can hit the trail feeling great and finish your hike feeling even better.

Targeted Exercises to Train for Hiking

Here’s a quick, general overview of how to train for hiking:

Increase strength in major muscles that hikers rely upon. Stronger legs and core muscles will better support the load in your pack and help you hike harder, longer.

Build endurance in those same muscle groups, as well as the shoulders and lower back, because hiking can be an all-day activity.

Improve your balance to have a more stable base that will allow you to take uneven terrain in stride.

Don’t forget your cardio. Complement this exercise plan with activities like trail running, biking or another aerobic exercise you enjoy.

Keep the following in mind as you train:

• Make the exercises fit your body, not the other way around.

• If something hurts, modify the exercise or skip it; and take extra rest days if you feel the need

• Move at your own pace, going slowly at first. Increase the repetitions or add more resistance or weight as your training progresses.

Warm-up: doing a brisk 5- to 10-minute walk is a great way to warm up

The Exercises

Hip Clocks: Imagine that you’re at the center of a clock. Lift and extend your right leg, reaching forward toward midnight.

Bring your leg back to the center. Repeat the movements toward the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions.

As you reach for each position, stay balanced over the standing leg and don’t let your hips shift side-to-side. Switch to the other leg and repeat.

Bridge Hamstring Curl on Ball: Lying on your back with your arms extended down by your sides, with your legs extended and your heels resting atop the exercise ball.

Tighten your glutes and abs as you pull your legs back, rolling the ball toward your butt.

Stop when your knees are bent at slightly more than 90 degrees. Extend your legs straight again, rolling the ball away from you. Repeat the sequence 10-15 times.

modifications: If you struggle to maintain balance as you roll the ball, place your heels slightly farther apart on the ball and move your arms away from your body; increase the difficulty by keeping your heels closer together and moving your arms closer to your body.

Side Plank: Lie on your right side, supported by your elbow under your shoulder; your right forearm should be perpendicular to your body; your left hand should rest on your left hip, with your left elbow pointing up; your legs and feet should be stacked atop one another.

Tighten your core as you raise your hips up into a plank, creating a straight line from your head to feet. Hold for 5 seconds, lower back to start. Repeat for 5-10 reps.

Make it harder: with hips up into plank add in a leg raise by slowly raising your left leg up and slightly back, keeping it straight as you do so. Keep your hips still while Lower your leg and raise it a total of 10 times. Repeat on other side.   

For the next 3, watch this video.

Step Ups & Side Step Ups: When doing this, keep your weight centered over your body.

Squats with weight/pack: Make sure you keep your weight back towards your heels & bend from your hips not your lower back.

Bent T&Y: Keep your back flat, like a straight line as you do these. Also bend from your hips, not your lower back.

Leave No Trace

When you are out there hiking, make sure you practice Leave No Trace. Leave No Trace is all about respecting the environment and minimizing our impact. Here’s a quick rundown of these guidelines:

Plan Ahead and Prepare: Know the regulations and special concerns of the area you’ll visit. Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.

Stick to established trails and campsites: Avoid trampling vegetation and widening trails. Don’t create new campsites.

Pack it in, Pack it out: This includes all your trash and leftover food. Even biodegradable materials like banana peels can take years to decompose.

Leave What You Find: Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.

Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them. Never feed animals, it damages their health and alters natural behaviors.


Hiking is a great way to enjoy nature and keep your brain healthy.

Hiking is more than just a way to get a good workout. It’s a chance to clear your head, soak in some vitamin D, and boost your creativity.

Whether you’re looking to strengthen your muscles or need an escape from the daily grind, hitting the trail offers a little something for everyone.

So, get ready, go out there, and hit those trails!