Living in cities is unnatural. In my opinion, many of the ills that we are dealing with are because we are so far removed from our natural way of living.
It’s not about living like a caveman. It’s about balancing our modern comforts of chairs and screens with our natural need for movement and nature.
As John Muir said..
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity and a fountain of life.
Even if we walk a lot in cities, it is on flat pavements and not the most varied environment for our joints. Moreover, we are usually in a state of unnatural stress from noisy traffic and having to avoid walking into zombies (people) looking down at their phones.
Hiking in nature is a natural way to work our bodies, balancing out our hectic city lives. Some of the best experiences and feelings of my life have been when spending days hiking and climbing in nature.
Why go hiking?
It reconnects us to our mind, body and spirit. Nowadays we are usually focused on either body or mind, but hiking reconnects us to both along with our spirit which is often neglected.
The spirit is our intuition and our higher self. Away from all the noise and distractions of ‘normal’ life, you are able to connect with this higher self to become aware of who you are and what you want.
Here are a few more benefits of hiking in nature;
- The best source of vitamin D (even if it’s cloudy) which is essential for strong bones and overall health
- The best source of fresh air to boost energy and respiratory health
- Reduces chance of osteoporosis (reduced bone density) as walking is weight bearing activity
- Lowers stress, blood pressure and risk of heart disease
- Can improve many aches and pains from knee to back pain
- Strengthens the body’s main muscles such as glutes, hamstrings and core
- Improved balance and coordination
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Syncs your circadian rhythm for improved sleep
- Improves fitness while being low impact and therefore low risk of injury
How to go hiking
Three things to cover before going hiking;
1.What to take
There are many things you could take on a hike that might come in handy. However, along with a phone for emergencies there are 5 things you must have with you;
- Shoes – having good quality shoes is the most important. If it’s summer you could probably get away with wearing some running shoes, if it’s winter and very wet, you may want to invest in some waterproof shoes.
- Backpack – The backpack you choose should be a proper hiking one ideally with a waterproof sheet. A waist strap is good as it will take the load off your shoulders and encourage better posture.
- Waterproof/warm layers – weather can change rapidly in the hills. A waterproof and warm layer can be essential for staying warm, dry and comfortable. That said, I typically start hiking feeling cold on purpose so my body gets used to it and the sweat doesn’t make me feel cold. Also, once it really does get cold on the top of a hill, that wooly jumper will feel oh so sweet and snug!
- Water bottle – how much water you need depends on many variables but for a day’s hike I recommend having at least 1L on you at all times. As long as the water is running, such as from a mountain waterfall, it should be safe to fill up your bottle. This water is also much healthier for you than tap water because it picks up the earth’s energy.
- Food – calorie dense, nutrient dense foods are best such as dried fruit and nuts as well as complex carbs like oats for sustained energy.
2.How to prepare
- Current fitness level – if you haven’t done any hiking before or have any injuries especially to the feet, ankles or knees, start with a small walk and progress from there. If in doubt, stay local and plan for just a short walk.
- Route – it’s vital that you have some idea of what route you are doing and approximately how long it will take. Having a map or at least looking at a map beforehand helps. The most important thing is to try to understand the shape of the land by looking at the contours and identifying landmarks to expect such as rivers.
- Weather – it’s essential to check the weather beforehand. Weather in the hills can be very different to the weather on the ground so getting a mountain weather forecast such as from here is a good idea.
3.Hiking skills to thrive
- Breathing – breathing is often dismissed as not important because it just comes naturally. However, many of us breathe ineffectively and yet controlling your breath is one of the most important life skills, especially when hiking. The most important thing is to take a long but light breath in through the nose and diaphragm (belly). The result is an extremely efficient technique requiring less energy but increasing the uptake of oxygen input and carbon dioxide output. See my guide here for more detailed guidance on breathing exercises.
- Posture – arms are for balance and if your posture is upright they will swing freely to keep your balance. Try to keep your head up towards the horizon and avoid looking down unless you are on dangerous ground such as a cliff edge.
- Photography – whilst its preferable to enjoy the moment rather than try and get the perfect photo, a good picture can be a fantastic memory. You could try thinking of a picture in 3 layers: the foreground (i.e. a tree or animal), the middle ground (i.e. a hill or person) and the background (off to the horizon). Also, light is important and early morning or early evening are the best times for dramatic, colourful pictures.
Now you are ready to go hiking
Now you have a foundation of knowledge to safely enjoy going out for a hike. Hopefully, using my tips above you should feel confident to go somewhere local for a short walk in nature and progress from there. Happy hiking!