Hiking is a fantastic activity that allows you to explore new trails, connect with nature, and stay active. It’s no secret that hiking has many benefits, both physical and mental. However, it’s essential to recognize that hiking can also have side effects.
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore 15 side effects of hiking, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ll cover everything from sore muscles to sunburn, so you can prepare yourself for a safe and enjoyable hike.
15 Side Effects of Hiking
Let’s jump right in and look at the first of 15 side effects.
- Improved Cardiovascular Health
One of the most significant benefits of hiking is its positive impact on cardiovascular health. Hiking is a form of aerobic exercise that strengthens your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. When you hike, your body works harder to pump blood and oxygen to your muscles, which helps to improve your overall cardiovascular health.
This increased cardiovascular fitness can also help to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic illnesses.
- Sore Muscles
While hiking can improve your physical health, it can also leave you with sore muscles. Hiking involves using muscles that you may not typically use in your daily life. This can lead to muscle soreness, especially if you’re new to hiking or have pushed yourself too hard.
Sore muscles can be uncomfortable, but they’re typically a sign that your body is adapting to the demands of hiking. To reduce muscle soreness, be sure to stretch before and after your hike, and start with shorter hikes before tackling more challenging trails.
- Improved Mental Health
Hiking isn’t just good for your physical health; it’s also beneficial for your mental health. Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. When you hike, you have the opportunity to disconnect from technology and the stresses of daily life, and connect with the natural world around you.
This can help to improve your mood, increase your energy levels, and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
One of the most common side effects of hiking is sunburn. When you spend time outdoors, especially in sunny weather, your skin is exposed to harmful UV rays that can cause sunburn. Sunburn can be painful and uncomfortable, but it can also increase your risk of skin cancer.
To protect yourself from sunburn, be sure to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
- Improved Balance and Coordination
Hiking is an excellent way to improve your balance and coordination. When you hike on uneven terrain, your body is forced to adjust to the changing landscape, which can help to improve your balance and coordination. This can be especially beneficial for older adults, who may be at higher risk for falls and other balance-related injuries.
When you hike, your body loses fluids through sweat, especially in warm weather or at high altitudes. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and even heatstroke in severe cases. To prevent dehydration, be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least one liter of water for every hour of hiking.
- Increased Endurance
Hiking can also help to increase your endurance. Endurance is the ability to sustain physical activity over an extended period. When you hike, you’re challenging your body to keep moving for hours at a time, which can help to improve your endurance over time. This increased endurance can be helpful in other areas of your life, such as during other forms of exercise or daily activities.
- Insect Bites
When you hike, you’re also exposed to a variety of insects, including mosquitoes, ticks, and bees. Insects can cause itchy, painful bites, and some can even transmit diseases like Lyme disease or West Nile virus.
To prevent insect bites, be sure to wear insect repellent and protective clothing, such as long sleeves and pants. Check yourself and your hiking partners for ticks regularly, especially after hiking in wooded or grassy areas.
- Increased Flexibility
Hiking can also help to increase your flexibility. Flexibility is the ability to move your joints through a full range of motion. When you hike, you’re moving your body in different ways, such as stepping over rocks and logs, which can help to improve your flexibility over time.
This increased flexibility can also reduce your risk of injury and improve your overall physical performance.
- Muscle Strains and Sprains
While hiking can improve your physical health, it can also lead to muscle strains and sprains. Hiking involves using your muscles in new and challenging ways, which can increase your risk of injury. Muscle strains and sprains can be painful and can take weeks or even months to heal fully.
To prevent muscle strains and sprains, be sure to warm up before your hike and stretch regularly during breaks.
- Improved Immune Function
Spending time in nature has been shown to improve immune function. When you hike, you’re exposed to a variety of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, which can help to boost your immune system. This can help to reduce your risk of illness and infection, and may even help to improve your recovery time if you do get sick.
- Blistered Feet
When you hike, you’re putting a lot of pressure on your feet. This can lead to blisters, especially if you’re wearing shoes or socks that don’t fit properly. Blisters can be painful and can make it difficult to continue your hike. To prevent blisters, be sure to wear shoes and socks that fit well and are broken in before your hike.
- Increased Confidence
Hiking can also help to increase your confidence. When you hike, you’re challenging yourself to try something new and potentially difficult.
When you successfully complete a hike, you may feel a sense of accomplishment and increased confidence in your abilities. This increased confidence can carry over into other areas of your life, such as work or relationships.
- Joint Pain
Hiking can also lead to joint pain, especially if you have pre-existing joint conditions like arthritis. Hiking involves a lot of impact on your joints, especially if you’re hiking on rocky or uneven terrain. To prevent joint pain, be sure to wear supportive shoes and consider using hiking poles to reduce the impact on your joints.
- Improved Sleep
Finally, hiking can also help to improve your sleep. Spending time in nature and engaging in physical activity can help to regulate your sleep-wake cycle, which can lead to better sleep quality. This improved sleep can help to improve your overall health and well-being.
Related: 20 Most Common Hiking Muscle Injuries
In conclusion, hiking has many benefits, but it’s important to recognize that it can also have side effects. By being aware of these side effects and taking steps to prevent them, you can enjoy a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.
Remember to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and insect repellent, wear appropriate clothing and footwear, and take breaks as needed. With a little preparation, you can reap the many benefits of hiking while minimizing the potential side effects. Happy hiking!