Gyms advertise themselves as being the answer to your weight loss woes, but the truth is that you don’t need to fork over a huge chunk of your paycheck to get in shape. All you really need to do is step outside.
Compare the Numbers
Hiking is a fabulous full-body workout that burns significantly more calories than spending time at the gym, especially if you’re new to exercising and don’t have the stamina you need for running. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll burn 204 calories on a 30-minute cross country hike. If you’re climbing hills, that number jumps to 242 calories. In comparison, you’ll only burn 106 calories walking on the treadmill at a moderate 3 miles per hour pace.
If you burn 3,500 more calories than you take in, you’ll lose one pound. Since hiking burns almost twice as many calories as walking on a treadmill, it’s not surprising that hitting your favorite trail will help you reach your weight loss goals without having to starve yourself. In fact, the American Hiking Society reports that people who lose weight through hiking maintain the loss while individuals who drop pounds through dieting alone tend to struggle to keep the weight off over the long term.
The Science Behind Hiking’s Health Benefits
So why is hiking such an amazing workout? The answer lies in the limitations of modern technology.
A treadmill is a flat and predictable surface. You can adjust the incline slightly, but it’s still fairly easy to propel your body forward. This lack of a consistent challenge reduces the amount of effort your workout requires, which minimizes your overall calorie burn. Even if you’re dedicated to your treadmill usage, you might not see the results you’re hoping for.
In comparison, hiking requires you to engage your entire body. You’re using your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, lower back and thighs as you navigate obstacles in the terrain. Every log to climb over or ditch to avoid is challenging your body in a way that a treadmill can never mimic. In fact, the number of calories burned while hiking is closer to a moderately-paced run than walking on the treadmill.
Hiking also provides significant health benefits in addition to the increased calorie burn. Exposure to sunlight supplies your body with Vitamin D, reducing your risk of osteoporosis, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Spending time outdoors will also reset your circadian rhythms, which can help with insomnia and other sleep-related issues. There’s even evidence to suggest that outdoor activities can improve your attention span, giving you the focus you need to excel when it’s time to head back to the office.
How to Maximize Your Workout
Part of the appeal of hiking is that it requires no special athletic skill. If you can comfortably climb a flight of stairs, you can hike. Of course, the ease of getting started doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to hike more effectively. To get the maximum benefit from your workout, remember these tips:
Aim to hike at a moderate pace for a longer period of time, as opposed to walking as fast as you can. If you’re not able to comfortably speak to a friend in complete sentences, you’re pushing yourself too far.
Embrace the changing weather.
As long as it’s not icy, you can safely hike year round. In fact, hiking in the cold can boost your calorie burn by up to 50%. Even just hiking on a windy day will increase your calorie burn by 5% due to the wind resistance.
Take the road less traveled.
Hiking on trails or sandy paths burns more calories than sticking to paved areas due to the effort required to propel your body forward on uneven terrain.
Pay attention to your form.
Walk with your shoulders pulled back and relaxed, leading with your chest instead of your knees and keeping your spine in line.
Consider investing in trekking poles.
If you’re on a budget, it’s safe to hike with nothing more than a good pair of shoes and a bottle of water to keep you hydrated. However, if you’re serious about getting in shape, consider picking up a pair of trekking poles. These adjustable poles help distribute your energy usage, increase your endurance and give your arms an extra workout.
Track your progress.
Fitness trackers like the Fitbit can be wonderful tools for evaluating your progress as a hiker, since they show you detailed data regarding each day’s physical activity. Seeing numerical evidence of your improvement can help give you the motivation you need to stick to a regular exercise routine.
If you’re trying to develop a long-term weight loss plan, or you’re simply interested in spending more time outside, start planning time to take more hikes. You’ll experience firsthand how hiking burns more calories than the gym!