The lush green all around you, the birds chirping, crisp air and the familiar crunch of sticks under your feet. Is there anything more tranquil than a walk in the woods? How about a longer, more demanding and cathartic hike to detox from the monotony and hassles of everyday life?
Not only is hiking aesthetically pleasing and a great outlet for stress, hiking can make you happier and healthier. Blazing the trail is a great way to log some serious cardio, while lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Additionally, regular physical activity substantially reduces the risk of dying from heart disease and decreases the risk for colon cancer and diabetes. Hiking also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles and joints; helps to relieve the pain of arthritis; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, and is associated with fewer hospitalizations and physician visits — not bad for a walk in the woods!
If you’re looking for a hobby that also boosts your brainpower, look no further. Hiking has been shown to increase attention span and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent, according to a University of London study. This is a result of not only activities in nature, but of unplugging from technology, as well.
Another great outdoor pastime that is perfect for those looking to de-stress or think through a problem is kayaking. Kayaking offers many of the same benefits as hiking, but with a great view of the waterways.
Paddling around your local river, creek or lake is a great way to increase your strength and flexibility. This is a low-
impact activity that is also a great option for individuals who need to minimize the impact to joints and muscles.
Much like hiking, kayaking can be tailored to the experience you are looking for. If you want a peaceful and reflective float downstream, a slower waterway is ideal.
If you’re looking for a challenge, a flowing river with obstacles like rapids can be a great way to push yourself.
Get Outdoors … With Man’s Best Friend
If you’re an animal lover like me, you won’t want to leave your four-legged adventurer at home. In fact, I find that one of the perks of having a dog is that it’s a great excuse to hit the trails more often. Research from Michigan State University found that dog owners walked 22 more minutes per day compared to non-owners on average.
Even if your dog is a couch potato or their breed isn’t “known” for being outdoorsy, I guarantee your dog will enjoy a walk in the woods with their favorite person. My dog, a French bulldog or Frenchie, is about 30 pounds of sheer joy and anticipation when I ask him if he “wants to go for a hike” despite being short, stocky and having to leave his favorite napping spot.
According to a PetBacker.com survey, 70% of dog owners believe their dogs are happier when being walked.
Walking and hiking are mutually beneficial for both dogs and humans, boasting a ton of mental health benefits. These proven benefits mainly include:
Lowering a stress hormone called oxytocin within us, thus reducing our stress levels.
Boosting the moods of both the dog and its owner as the dopamine and serotonin levels within our bodies will be raised.
As summer arrives, be sure to get outside and rejoice in the comfort and beauty that is the great outdoors!
Here are some tips for safely enjoying the great outdoors with your dog:
1. Mind the leash laws – Most outdoor spaces will have notices of leash laws at their entrances. Many state parks require your dogs to be on a leash at all times, and some have length limits, but state forests and other wild areas do not mind your dog being off leash as long as you can recall them. If you’re not sure about the place where you plan to hike with your dog, call ahead or look online and always bring a leash just in case.
2. Visibility – Hunting seasons vary from state to state and by season. If you know or suspect that it is open season, attach a brightly colored (I recommend neon orange) bandana or tracking jacket to your dog so they are not mistaken for the animals being pursued. This is also a good rule for human hikers who plan to hit the trail during hunting season.
3. Water woes – Outdoor pursuits with water require more preparation, but yield great satisfaction. I’ve received many hoots and hollers from shore-side observers when they see my dog, Anakin, perched atop the front of my kayak in his yellow lifejacket taking in the views. While Anakin is strong, he’s little and could easily be overpowered by fast-moving water or get stuck on unseen objects under the surface like tree branches when swimming. For this reason, I always make sure Anakin is wearing his lifejacket when we are on the water. Even if your dog is a “water dog” and a strong swimmer, I urge pet parents to put a lifejacket on their dogs. I have seen larger, stronger dogs get sucked under logs and debris. Those dogs would not have made it had it not been for the lifejacket keeping their head above water until their owner could reach them and pull them to safety.
4. Flea and tick prevention – Prescription-strength flea and tick prevention is a must if you’re going to share the great outdoors with your pet. Staying on maintained trails helps avoid bugs, but it’s not guaranteed to keep pests away. Think about it, if you can get bitten by a mosquito on a well-managed trail, why would your dog that is lower to the ground be any less susceptible to insects?