Long ago, the essential activity of our species was hiking.
Humans had to hike so we could hunt and gather food, so we could collect wood for fire and rocks to build shelter, so we could participate in our tribes’ great annual migrations. Hiking was critical to survival.
Today it appears hiking is inconsequential, strictly optional. But the opposite is true: Hiking is now more important than ever. The world needs more hikers, because hiking makes people better people.
Hiking Makes You More Creative
Anything that gets you outdoors—out of your home, your office, your car, out of your mundane routines, out of your fixation on trivial detail, out of the clutches of so-called news and shallow entertainment—makes you more creative. But most outdoor sports keep your conscious mind engaged. They can be thrilling, but they require you to fixate on technique and terrain, so they don’t let you go deep into yourself. You can’t hear your subconscious mind. Hiking, because it’s not a sport, allows you to mentally relax. Your subconscious mind becomes dominant. And the subconscious is your greatest source of problem-solving creativity.
Hiking Makes You Smarter
In a recent study, a large group of randomly selected people was given a task intended to exhaust their attention capacity. They were then divided into three groups for a 40 minute break. Group A went walking in a local nature preserve. Group B went walking in an urban environment. Group C sat quietly and read. 40 minutes later, they were all given identical proofreading tests. Group A, the nature walkers, did far better on the test. That’s because hiking both relaxes and stimulates the mind.
Hiking Makes You Healthier
It’s the perfect exercise: aerobic, low impact, inexpensive, gentle on the environment, viable at any age, so simple it requires no instruction. And hiking, because you do it in natural surroundings, is more than exercise. Hiking has the power to heal. Studies show that patients in hospital rooms with windows providing views of nature require less pain management and heal faster than do patients in rooms with windows overlooking parking lots. So you can imagine what a potent healing therapy it is to actually be in those natural surroundings, hiking through them.
Hiking Makes You Calmer
Hiking quickly makes you aware of your breath. You begin paying attention to the rhythm of your breathing. And breath awareness is an element of many forms of meditation. That’s why hiking balances and centers you, inducing clarity, focus and calm. Studies support this. Daily doses of “green time”— time spent outdoors in natural settings—alleviate symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Hiking Improves Your Love Life
Hike with your partner, and two things will happen. First, the locust-like swarm of details, obligations and responsibilities that typically keeps buzzing around you will not follow you up the trail. You and your partner will find your awareness returns to each other. You’ll begin enjoying each other more, relaxing into your love. Second, you’ll find hiking becomes shared adventure, which sharpens you and your partner’s sense of mutual purpose. It will bond you. It will galvanize your relationship.
Hiking Makes You a Better Friend
That enormous, infinite space, the great outdoors, that you enter when you go hiking? You can bring some of that space back with you, inside you. And you can offer it to others, in the form of openness, empathy, patience, compassion, simply being a better listener, all of which will make you a much better friend.
Hiking Makes You Happier
Hiking is fun. But the word fun doesn’t do it justice. When hiking, you’re admiring our planet’s grandest scenery, you’re exploring wild lands, you’re negotiating tumultuous terrain. It makes you feel intensely alive. It brings profound joy. Profound because it’s not just your joy you’re experiencing. It’s the pleasure of the infinite spirit.
Hiking Makes You More You
The excited conversation that begins at a trailhead when friends go hiking together gradually subsides into more personal, intimate talk. Sometimes that distills into discussion of loftier ideas, but it always slides into long periods of silence. So even if you always hike with friends, you often end up hiking alone. And if you can dive into that tranquility, if you can swim into that solitude, you’ll probe the depths of your soul. You’ll come away with a better understanding of who you really are and where you want to go in the larger journey of life.