The answer to this question is easy, yes it can! However, some of the words and phrases that might spring to mind when asked your thoughts on trekking might include 'hard work', 'tiring', 'too much effort' and 'why would you want to go and do that?' Aside from the sheer satisfaction of standing on top of a mountain or experiencing magnificent views glimpsed through gaps in the trees there is significant evidence to suggest that trekking brings with it many health benefits. This short article will uncover some of the health benefits associated with trekking and hopefully encourage you to improve your health by getting out in the great outdoors for a walk, a hike or a trek.
Before we start, it's worth understanding what we mean by trekking. The dictionary defines trekking as 'the activity of walking long distances on foot for pleasure'. This is not really any different from hiking which is defined as 'the activity of going for long walks in the countryside'. Indeed, some might refer to this activity as 'just going out for a walk in the hills'. Whatever you want to call it, the end result is the same, a long walk in the countryside, hills and/or mountains. To avoid confusion and for the purposes of this article we will use the terms trekking, hiking and walking interchangeably.
So, just what are the health benefits? Not only does trekking contribute to an overall improvement in your physical health it also plays a part in your mental health. First we will take a look at the physical benefits before going on to explore how trekking can also improve your mental health.
How can trekking improve your physical health? Writing on the British Mountaineering Council's website in July 2014, Tina Gardner suggested that 'walking is one of the easiest and cheapest ways of exercising, and an effective way of managing weight..' There are a number of studies that support these claims and it has been suggested that walking at a 4 mile per hour pace for 150 minutes per week can result in a 1–3% weight loss and that increased levels of walking were associated with a higher likelihood of weight loss and maintenance (Nelson & Folta, 2008). Reading this, it might be fair to assume that walking in the hills for 5 to 6 hours whilst carrying a rucksack will also contribute to weight loss. However, weight loss is not the only benefit that can be realised by trekking.
According to Dr Aaron Baggish, 'hiking is a good way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, particularly if your route includes some hills, which will force your heart to work harder' (Baggish, 2016). This is backed up by numerous studies postulating that walking results in consistent increases in fitness or an improvement in ability to undertake exercise with recent evidence confirming that walking at a moderate intensity (walking briskly at about 4 miles per hour (Dept of Health, 2011)) increases aerobic fitness whilst walking at a vigorous intensity confers greater fitness improvements (Murtagh, Murphy & Heinonen, 2011). Dr Baggish also suggests that hiking on uneven surfaces also provides a natural way to engage the core muscles in your torso and to hone your balance skills.
It is said that regular brisk walking will contribute to an overall lowering of blood pressure. This is supported by numerous studies; most notably meta-analysis provides evidence that walking contributes to statistically significant improvements in a range of widely used measures of health including systolic and diastolic blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, BMI and total cholesterol (Hanson & Jones, 2015). It's not only physical health that benefits from trekking; mental wellbeing can also be improved.
Trekking can provide a means to improve your mental health. There are a growing number of small scale studies which suggest that time spent outside in green space such as woodland, National Parks, hills, moorland and mountains may help to reduce stress levels. It has been hypothesized that exercising in green space will improve psychological wellbeing (Pretty et al, 2007) and that green space is positively associated with mental wellbeing (Houlden, Weich & Jarvis, 2017). It appears that more research is needed in this area but what stands out to me through reading the literature and from personal experience is that getting out for a good long walk in the hills helps to clear your head, reduce your stress levels and generally makes you feel much happier.
To summarise, trekking provides both physical and mental health benefits. On the physical side, trekking can contribute to weight loss, cardiovascular and aerobic fitness, improved core strength and balance as well as a reduction in blood pressure. In terms of mental health, the evidence is not yet conclusive but it is generally accepted that being outdoors, in green space can help to reduce stress and generally improve your mental wellbeing.
There you have it, getting out into the countryside and going for a long walk can seriously affect your health in a positive way. The UK has numerous national parks and mountainous areas which are all free to access and which have extensive networks of paths and tracks. On top of that, map coverage of the UK is comprehensive and readily available in both digital and printed formats. It's no secret that the weather in the UK can be fickle but it is possible to get good accurate forecasts to help you avoid the worst of it. So why not get out there, enjoy trekking and reap the health benefits. Before you go out into the UK hills and mountains, a word of caution, please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared. If you are unsure of what clothing and equipment you need or what skills are required or where to go, please seek advice. Monkey Mountaineering can offer a full range of instruction and advice for all levels of ability from novice through to those with significant experience so why not get I touch with us to see how we can help you get the most out of our great outdoors?