The Joy of Hiking

I love to hike.

For those of you that know me, this comes as no surprise. I go hiking almost every weekend, and it usually winds up in our conversations somehow. For those of you that do not, I will probably mention it at least a few (dozen) times when we meet. Hiking is my main hobby and has been for as long as I can remember.

Sure, hiking itself is not very interesting. All you do is put on some shoes, throw some snacks, water and supplies into a bag, drive for a little bit — if at all — into nature, and start walking. Why have I stuck with it for more than two decades?

The simple answer: I have way too much fun while hiking. It is also the open secret to my good health and general well-being. And if you have not been hiking recently, you should give it a shot. Let me explain why.

The most obvious reason is the physical benefit. Recreational hiking is not the same as a regular workout routine for getting into good shape, but some physical activity is better than none at all. If you are not used to climbing mountains or walking for miles, start with a walk down the street. Once you can do that, go to your local park and hike the shortest trail. Work up from there. Keep at it; your doctor will thank me later.

Your mental health will also benefit from hiking. Aside from the well-documented dopamine rush from physical activity, being out in nature has shown to improve mood. Even if it's just a walk in the park during your lunch break at work, you should come back feeling refreshed and maybe even a little energized. One important caveat here: turn off your cell phone. Separate yourself from your work, and stop thinking about it. Focus on your surroundings or let your mind wander!

That brings me to the professional benefits to hiking. This section is especially important to STEAM workers — that is, creatives, engineers, researchers, etc. Chances are good that your job involves challenging and difficult problems. It follows that creative insight can greatly increase your odds of solving them, thereby advancing your career. As it turns out, one of the proven ways to solve a problem is by not thinking about it for a while. In Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang explores the process of generating creative insights. One section, called Walking, describes the benefits of a daily walk on creativity. Most of the evidence provided is testimonial, but studies did show that walking correlates with an increase in divergent thinking, a.k.a. creative thinking. Other sections explore the benefits of “deep play” — recreational yet physically challenging activities that require complete focus — and exposure to nature for creativity. Honestly, the book provides a better argument for regular hiking than I can in this short article. I would recommend reading it when you get the chance.

There are surely other reasons than these to hike. There are probably other ways to achieve its benefits. I find, however, that regular hiking relieves my stress, energizes me, makes me happy, and improves my physical health. It is the second biggest reason for my well-being after a good night's sleep. If you made it this far, please consider taking up my “hobby”, and I hope to see you on the trail!