Nov. 17 is National Take a Hike Day. Shockingly, its purpose is to encourage people to go outside and hike. While the activity might mean getting IG-worthy photos for your feed, seeing cute dogs, and feeling in touch with nature, it has tons of other benefits and an interesting history.
First and foremost, hiking is defined as prolonged walking in a natural setting, like parks, mountains, or woods. In the early days of the U.S., as the frontier was still expanding Westward, it was less of a hobby and more of a way to travel through the still-undeveloped country. However, as technology and industrialization have morphed our natural landscape over the past few centuries, it has become a go-to practice for outdoor enthusiasts, exercisers, and a trove of others. Given the rising popularity of the activity, the American Hiking Society created National Take a Hike Day (or National Hiking Day) in 1976.
If you need some hiking facts to impress your outdoorsy friends, we’ve got you covered:
- It is the fourth most popular outdoor activity in the U.S., behind running, fishing, and biking.
- There are approximately 24 types of trails, including social, goat paths, and lollipops.
- The National Parks Service alone has more than 21,000 miles of trails across the country.
- An estimated 3 million people hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail annually.
Hiking provides many health benefits, but some are very surprising compared to other forms of exercise like walking and jogging.
Hiking Alleviates Stress
While most regular exercise reduces stress, taking a hike combines the benefits of physical activity and nature, away from technology and the hustle and bustle of real life. One study found that walking around a shopping center increased the symptoms of depression, but walking in the countryside reduced them. While it’s just one study, spending time outdoors is a great way to relax and destress. Add in the benefits of walking, and boom — hiking!
As humans age, we reach a point where our bone density starts to decline at a rate lower than 1% every year. Since hiking is a weight-bearing activity, it helps to maintain a healthy bone density, which can delay the negative effects of aging. Additionally, humans make vitamin D in their bodies after exposure to sunlight, which is vital for bone health and density. Taking a hike, which can typically involve sun exposure, combines the benefits of weight-bearing exercise with a healthy dose of vitamin D — a double win for maintaining bone health.
Most trails aren’t smooth and flat like treadmills and paved roads; twisting paths and wide-ranging elevations are quite common. While getting used to such uneven terrain can take some time, it actually helps improve one’s balance and core strength. Hiking puts a constant strain on the hips and core, which work overtime to provide stability and balance. Over time, these muscles strengthen and adapt, improving balance.
Hiking is also known to help increase proprioception, the brain’s awareness of body position and movement in relation to its surroundings. This process occurs because every time you take note of a rock, divot, or root as you navigate the trail, your brain improves its ability to judge and perceive those obstacles.
While the phrase “take a hike” is typically reserved as an insult, if you have the time and opportunity this Nov. 17 to do so — TAKE A HIKE!