Here is what happens to your body after hiking:
- Burns up to 500 calories per hour
- Tones muscles through a full-body workout
- Builds strength and cardiovascular endurance
- Enhances metabolism and aids weight/fat loss
- Reduces stress and improves mood
- Leads to a flatter and stronger core
- Optimizes blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart health
Hiking provides total body conditioning and head-to-toe health improvements through calorie burn, muscle/cardio building, stress relief and more.
Hiking is an incredibly popular outdoor activity enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. It provides numerous physical and mental benefits, but the answer to the question “What happens to your body after hiking?” will shock you. Let’s explore the short-term and long-term effects of hiking on your body and the factors that can influence these changes.
Table of Contents
Understanding Muscle Soreness
Hiking can lead to muscle soreness, especially after a long day of hiking or a strenuous multi-day hike. The physical exertion involved in trekking up and down hills and trails can result in sore calves, hamstrings, and other leg muscles. This muscle soreness is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. The best way to minimize post-hike soreness is to train properly beforehand, use trekking poles on the trail, and take care of your leg muscles afterward with recovery techniques.
The Link Between Sore Muscles and Hiking
There is a strong connection between sore muscles and hiking. The continuous physical exertion involved in a hike, particularly when carrying a heavy backpack, often leads to muscle soreness afterward. Factors like the distance hiked, elevation change, and weight carried can impact how sore your muscles feel post-hike. Trekking poles can reduce the load on leg muscles. Understanding proper conditioning and recovery methods can help hikers deal with the inevitable muscle soreness that comes from long days on the trail.
Immediate Effects Of Hiking Happens to Your Body
Hiking is an excellent way to stay active, explore nature, and improve overall health. While we often focus on the long-term benefits of this activity, it’s important to understand the immediate effects hiking can have on your body. This detailed guide will delve into the physical and mental changes you may experience during and immediately after a hike, drawing on expert medical opinions, hiker experiences, and relevant research.
The Physiological Response: How Your Body Adapts During a Hike
1. Increased Heart Rate and Blood Flow
When you embark on a hike, your heart rate increases as your body meets the increased demand for oxygen and nutrients. Dr. Michael Fredericson, a doctor specializing in sports medicine at Stanford University, says that “hiking is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise, as it requires the heart to pump harder and more efficiently” (1). This increase in blood flow helps deliver oxygen to your muscles and supports overall cardiovascular health.
2. Muscular Engagement and Fatigue
As you navigate uneven terrain and elevation changes, your muscles – particularly your legs, core, and upper body – are actively engaged. This exertion can lead to temporary muscle fatigue as you push your body to adapt to the challenge. Veteran hiker and author, Andrew Skurka, notes that “hiking engages a variety of muscle groups, making it an effective full-body workout” (2).
3. Improved Respiratory Function
Hiking can help strengthen your respiratory system by increasing your lung capacity and oxygen intake. Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior scientific advisor at the American Lung Association, states that “hiking in nature can help improve lung function, especially if you’re hiking at a higher altitude, as it forces your body to adapt to lower oxygen levels” (3).
4. Thermoregulation and Sweating
As your body works hard during a hike, you will generate heat. In response, your body’s natural cooling mechanism, sweating, is activated to maintain a stable internal temperature. This natural mechanism of regulating body temperature helps to prevent excessive heating up of the body and, at the same time, removes harmful substances and impurities from your body.
Mental and Emotional Changes: The Hiker's High
1. Release of Endorphins and Serotonin
Physical activity, such as hiking, stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, known as the “feel-good” hormones. Endorphins are natural chemicals that can alleviate pain and stress, while serotonin is an important substance that helps to control your mood, appetite, and sleep patterns. As a result, many hikers report feeling a sense of euphoria or a “hiker’s high” during and immediately after a hike.
2. Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Studies have proved that spending time in nature and participating in physical activities can effectively reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. According to a study run by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, participants who participated in outdoor activities, such as hiking, saw a noticeable decrease in cortisol levels – a hormone associated with stress (4).
3. Boosted Self-Esteem and Confidence
Completing a challenging hike can lead to a sense of accomplishment, boosting self-esteem and confidence. Hiker and blogger Jenny Bruso shares her experience: “Hiking has taught me that I am stronger than I ever imagined, both physically and mentally. It has given me the confidence to tackle challenges in all aspects of my life” (5).
Going on a hike can provide innumerable benefits for your physical and mental health. You can experience immediate advantages such as increased heart rate and muscle engagement, reduced stress levels, and a heightened sense of self-worth. By understanding the immediate effects of hiking on your body, you can ensure that your outdoor adventures are enjoyable and beneficial to your overall well-being. Hiking is an excellent way to stay active, connect with nature, and improve physical and mental health.
immediate effects of hiking on your body
|Immediate Effects of Hiking||Description|
|Increased Heart Rate and Blood Flow||Hiking increases heart rate and blood flow as the body works to deliver oxygen and nutrients to muscles. This enhances cardiovascular health.|
|Muscular Engagement and Fatigue||Hiking uses various muscle groups leading to engagement and temporary fatigue as the body adapts to the exertion.|
|Improved Respiratory Function||The physical activity of hiking can strengthen lung capacity and oxygen intake, especially at higher altitudes.|
|Thermoregulation and Sweating||Hiking causes the body to generate heat, triggering sweating to maintain a stable temperature and remove impurities.|
|Release of Endorphins and Serotonin||Hiking stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, leading to a “hiker’s high” and boosted mood.|
|Reduced Stress and Anxiety||Being active outdoors hiking is proven to reduce stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol.|
|Boosted Self-Esteem and Confidence||Overcoming hiking challenges can boost self-esteem and confidence in one’s abilities.|
Long-Term Effects On Your Body after Hiking
Improved Cardiovascular Health
The Expert’s Take
Dr. Michael Rocco, a cardiovascular specialist and professor of medicine at Wake Forest University, highlights the importance of regular aerobic exercise, like hiking, for maintaining heart health. Dr. Rocco states, “Regular aerobic exercise strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure, and improves blood flow.”
John Muir, a seasoned hiker, and naturalist, often praised the benefits of hiking for heart health. He once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Many avid hikers echo this sentiment, attributing their improved cardiovascular health to a consistent hiking routine.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that participants who engaged in regular moderate-intensity exercise, like hiking, had a 50% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who were inactive.
Enhanced Mental Health
The Expert’s Take
Dr. Aaron Kandola, a psychologist and mental health advocate, emphasizes the positive impact of physical activities like hiking on mental health. “Exercise has been shown to have a strong antidepressant effect and can reduce symptoms of anxiety,” says Dr. Kandola.
Long-distance hiker and author Cheryl Strayed shares her personal journey of healing and self-discovery through hiking in her memoir, “Wild.” She wrote, “The physical act of hiking itself was a balm, a salve that soothed my anxious thoughts and depressive tendencies.”
In a review of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology in 2015, it was discovered that being in natural surroundings like hiking trails was related to lower anxiety levels, better mood, and heightened self-esteem.
Stronger Muscles and Joints
The Expert’s Take
Dr. Ellen Casey, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery, explains that hiking helps to build muscle strength and endurance, particularly in the lower body. “Hiking engages the muscles of your legs, hips, and core, leading to increased strength and stability over time,” says Dr. Casey.
Andrew Skurka, an accomplished long-distance hiker, credits his impressive physical fitness to the rigors of hiking. “The strength and endurance I’ve gained from hiking have made it possible for me to take on more challenging trails and enjoy the process,” he says.
According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, individuals who participated in consistent uphill walking routines noticed significant lower body strength and power enhancements.
Related Article: Does Hiking Work Your Core? Yes! Hiking Builds Muscle, But How?
Better Balance and Coordination
The Expert’s Take
Dr. Juliette Fritzsche, a physical therapist and balance specialist, emphasizes the benefits of hiking for improving balance and coordination. “The uneven terrain encountered during hiking challenges your balance and proprioception, helping to sharpen your coordination and stability over time,” she explains.
Heather Anderson, a record-breaking long-distance hiker, shares her experience of how hiking has improved her balance and coordination. “After years of hiking, I’ve noticed a significant improvement in my balance and ability to navigate difficult terrain with ease,” she says.
A 2017 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that older adults who participated in a 12-week hiking program experienced significant improvements in balance, coordination, and walking speed compared to a control group.
Boosted Immune Function
The Expert’s Take
Dr. David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, highlights the benefits of moderate exercise, like hiking, on immune function. “Regular, moderate-intensity exercise can help to strengthen the immune system by increasing the circulation of white blood cells and boosting the production of antibodies,” he explains.
Jennifer Pharr Davis, a long-distance hiker and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year has noticed the positive effects of hiking on her overall health. “Since I started hiking regularly, I’ve experienced fewer colds and generally feel healthier and more resilient,” she shares.
Based on a 2012 review of studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, engaging in regular, moderate-intensity exercise was linked to a decreased likelihood of developing upper respiratory tract infections and other common illnesses.
The long-term effects of hiking on your body are overwhelmingly positive. From improved cardiovascular health to enhanced mental well-being, stronger muscles and joints, better balance and coordination, and a boosted immune system, hiking is a fantastic way to maintain and improve overall health. By incorporating hiking into your routine and heeding the insights of medical experts, real-life hikers, and scientific research, you can experience the numerous benefits of this enjoyable outdoor activity.
long-term effects of hiking on your body
|Long-Term Effects of Hiking||Description|
|Improved Cardiovascular Health||Regular hiking strengthens the heart, improves blood flow, and lowers blood pressure. This boosts overall cardiovascular health.|
|Enhanced Mental Health||Hiking alleviates anxiety and depression, improves mood, and heightens self-esteem over time.|
|Stronger Muscles and Joints||Hiking builds strength and endurance in the legs, hips, and core leading to increased stability and joint health.|
|Better Balance and Coordination||The uneven terrain of hiking improves balance, proprioception, coordination, and stability.|
|Boosted Immune Function||Moderate hiking helps circulate white blood cells and antibodies, strengthening the immune system.|
|Weight/Fat Loss||The calorie burn of hiking, especially with hills/packs, enhances metabolism and contributes to long-term fat loss.|
|Reduced Risk of Disease||Regular hiking lowers the risk of various diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.|
The Remarkable post-hike Effects On Your Body
Hiking offers numerous benefits to both our physical and mental well-being. A trek through nature can leave one feeling rejuvenated and inspired. But what happens to your body after hiking, and how does it affect your overall health? This section explores the participant’s body composition changes, resting heart rate, blood sugar, cortisol, and testosterone levels after hiking daily for a month.
1. Body Composition
The study found that after long hikes, there’s a significant change in body composition. Participants experienced a decrease in body fat percentage and increased muscle mass. These changes are due to the physical demands placed on the body during a hike, which burns calories and strengthens muscles.
Typically, hikers can burn an estimated 300 to 600 calories per hour, depending on the difficulty level and steepness of the hiking trail. As the body burns fat for energy, it also stimulates muscle growth through resistance training – every step uphill or over rough terrain requires more force than walking on flat ground.
2. Resting Heart Rate
Another notable change after hiking is a decrease in resting heart rate. The study observed that hikers’ resting heart rates dropped significantly, indicating improved cardiovascular fitness.
A lower resting heart rate typically signifies that the heart works more efficiently, pumping blood throughout the body with fewer beats. This improved cardiovascular health reduces the risk of heart disease and can lead to better overall health.
3. Blood Sugar
Hiking can also have a positive impact on blood sugar levels. The study found that hikers experienced reduced blood sugar levels, which may be attributed to increased physical activity and improved insulin sensitivity.
Engaging in physical activity can help reduce blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity, enabling the body to use insulin more effectively to convert glucose into energy. Following a hike, the body can better manage blood sugar levels, decreasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
4. Cortisol and Testosterone
Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is typically released in response to physical and mental stress. The research noted a temporary rise in cortisol levels following the hike, a common response due to physical exertion on the body. However, once the participants recovered, cortisol levels returned to normal or dropped below pre-hike levels.
The study also found that hiking increased testosterone levels in both male and female participants. Testosterone is a hormone associated with muscle growth and repair, essential after strenuous physical activity.
In light of the provided data, let’s look at the before and after hormone levels of an individual who hiked every day for a month.
Before starting the daily hiking routine, the individual’s hormone levels were as follows:
- Cortisol (normal range: 10-23 µg/dL): 17.8 µg/dL
- Free Testosterone (normal range: 8.7-25.1 pg/mL): 4.4 pg/mL
- Total Testosterone (normal range: 8.1-25.1): 463 ng/dL
After hiking every day for a month, the individual experienced significant changes in their hormone levels:
- Cortisol: 10.8 µg/dL, a decrease from the initial level, still within the normal range.
- Free Testosterone: 9.9 pg/mL, a significant increase from the initial level, and now within the normal range.
- Total Testosterone: 992 ng/dL, more than double the initial level, demonstrating a substantial increase in Testosterone.
This data shows that incorporating hiking into one’s daily routine can lead to positive changes in hormone levels. In this case, cortisol levels decreased while free and total testosterone levels increased. The improvements in testosterone levels can contribute to better overall physical health, while the decrease in cortisol levels can help manage stress and improve mental well-being.
5. Mental Health Benefits
In addition to the physical changes mentioned above, hiking offers numerous mental health benefits. Taking a natural break can alleviate stress, enhance mood, and promote mental clarity. The release of endorphins during physical activity is also known to positively affect mental well-being, leaving hikers feeling invigorated and refreshed.
effect of hiking on Various harmones
|Hormone||Normal Range||Before Hiking||After 1 Month of Daily Hiking|
|Cortisol||10-23 μg/dL||17.8 μg/dL||10.8 μg/dL|
|Free Testosterone||8.7-25.1 pg/mL||4.4 pg/mL||9.9 pg/mL|
|Total Testosterone||300-1000 ng/dL||463 ng/dL||992 ng/dL|
|Estrogen (females)||15-350 pg/mL||112 pg/mL||248 pg/mL|
|Growth Hormone||0-5 ng/mL||1.2 ng/mL||2.1 ng/mL|
|Insulin||2-25 μU/mL||11 μU/mL||8 μU/mL|
Post-Hike Recovery: Dealing with Soreness and Fatigue
After a long day or multi-day hike, soreness and fatigue in the leg muscles is common. Effective post-hike recovery starts with staying hydrated to rehydrate muscles and reduce soreness. Light exercise like walking can pump blood through sore muscles. Foam rolling, stretching, and massage help alleviate muscle pain and speed recovery. Anti-inflammatory foods and ice packs can also ease soreness. Getting plenty of quality sleep allows hikers’ bodies to repair muscle damage from the demands of the trail.
Effective Recovery Tips for Sore Muscles After Hiking
To reduce sore leg muscles after hiking, using trekking poles is effective to distribute weight off the legs. Hydration and electrolytes replenish fluids and speed muscle recovery. Light cardio exercise boosts blood flow to deliver nutrients. Foam rolling breaks up lactic acid causing DOMS. Stretches maintain flexibility and range of motion. Massage therapy loosens muscles. Anti-inflammatory foods like berries and fatty fish can ease inflammation. Sleep is crucial for muscle repair and recovery. These tips will alleviate soreness faster.
Stay Hydrated: A Crucial Element of Recovery
Staying properly hydrated is one of the most important elements of recovering from sore muscles after hiking. Dehydration exacerbates muscle fatigue and soreness. Drinking plenty of water or sports drinks with electrolytes after a long hike helps rehydrate leg muscles. Getting enough fluids also boosts circulation, clears lactic acid, and delivers nutrients to strained muscles to promote faster recovery. For thru-hikers and backpackers, hydration is key to bouncing back each day on the trail and reducing aches and pains.
Long Hikes and Their Impact on Muscle Soreness
Long-distance hikes often result in significant muscle soreness, especially for hikers who are not conditioned for the duration and terrain. The continuous miles with accumulated elevation change placed a demand on leg muscles, leading to microtears and strains. Carrying a heavy pack adds more strain. Factors like downhill sections also increase muscle soreness due to eccentric contractions. Ensuring proper rest, nutrition, and active recovery after long hikes can help deal with resultant muscle pain and fatigue.
The Art of Backpacking and Reducing Muscle Pain
Backpacking requires mastering the art of carrying added weight in your pack over long distances. This places increased load and strain on your leg muscles, often leading to post-hike muscle soreness. Using trekking poles transfers some weight off your legs. Training with weighted packs prepares muscles. Choosing lightweight gear reduces pack burden. Maintaining electrolytes and hydration prevents muscle cramping. Stretching and foam rolling ease muscle pain after each day on the trail. These techniques and planning help backpackers reduce muscle soreness.
Active Recovery Techniques for Hikers
Active recovery like light cardio, stretching, and foam rolling helps alleviate post-hike muscle soreness. Light aerobic exercise increases blood flow to deliver nutrients and oxygen to strained muscles for faster recovery. Stretches maintain flexibility, range of motion, and tissue elasticity. Foam rolling breaks up lactic acid accumulation and loosens tight muscles. Massage therapy also loosens muscles and stimulates healing. Staying mildly active after intense hiking promotes healing while reducing stiffness and pain.
Dealing with DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is common after strenuous hiking due to muscle microtears. DOMS leads to tender, stiff muscles 24-72 hours post-hike. Foam rolling, massage, and stretching can help reduce DOMS. Light active recovery keeps blood flowing through sore muscles. Hydration and electrolyte replenishment also aid recovery. Anti-inflammatory foods can ease muscle pain. Allowing time for muscle repair and rebuilding before your next hike can help deal with DOMS.
Caring for Your Leg Muscles Post-Hike
The leg muscles bear the brunt of hiking’s physical demands. To care for leg muscles after a hike, use RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation to alleviate soreness. Gentle stretches maintain flexibility. Foam rolling breaks up muscle knots. Massage boosts circulation and healing. Hydration and nutrition help muscles recover. Anti-inflammatory aids reduce pain. Low-impact exercise keeps muscles active. Prioritizing leg muscle recovery helps prevent injuries.
Proper Hiking Gear to Minimize Soreness
Using proper hiking gear can help minimize muscle soreness. Trekking poles transfer load from the legs to the upper body. Lightweight backpacks reduce the burden on muscles. Thick-soled hiking shoes cushion impacts on joints and muscles. Compression socks improve circulation. Body glide prevents blisters from friction. Choosing proper gear improves biomechanics, prevents overuse injuries, and reduces post-hike muscle fatigue and soreness.
Recovery Time: How Long Does It Take?
Recovery time for sore leg muscles after hiking depends on factors like hike difficulty, fitness level, and the individual. With proper post-hike recovery methods, mild muscle soreness may resolve in 24-48 hours. More intense soreness could take 3-5 days to fully heal. Consistently training the legs, using trekking poles, and actively recovering after each hike allows hikers to bounce back faster for their next adventure on the trails.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What does hiking do to your body shape?
Regular hiking can help improve your body shape by building muscle tone, especially in the legs and glutes. The constant motion of hiking works the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Carrying a backpack also engages the core and back muscles. Over time, regular hiking can lead to losing fat and gaining lean muscle for a more toned, athletic physique.
What is post-hiking fatigue?
Post-hiking fatigue is the tiredness, soreness, and lack of energy that sets in after a long or vigorous hike. It’s caused by the exertion of hiking miles up and down hills with a pack. Post-hike fatigue leads to muscle soreness from tiny tears, glycogen depletion, and accumulation of lactic acid. Replenishing fluids, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein can help the body recover after hiking. Rest days also allow time for tired muscles to bounce back.
What happens to your body if you hike every day?
Hiking every day can have positive and negative effects. On the upside, your aerobic fitness and leg strength will improve dramatically. Your body adapts by building hiking-specific stamina. However, hiking long miles and elevation day after day can lead to overuse injuries if your body doesn’t have time to recover. Listen to your body’s signals and take rest days during multi-day hikes to allow your muscles adequate recovery.
What happens after a hike?
After a long or difficult hike, it’s common to feel fatigued, achy and sore, especially in the leg muscles, hips, and shoulders from carrying your pack. You may be dehydrated and have depleted glycogen stores. Swelling in the feet and joint inflammation can also occur. Make sure to replenish fluids, refuel with carbohydrates and protein, use active recovery techniques, and get plenty of sleep to help your body recover after every hike.
Does hiking give you a flat stomach?
Hiking can help flatten the stomach by burning calories and body fat. The combination of cardiovascular exercise and functional strength moves work the core muscles as well as legs, hips, and shoulders. Getting leaner through regular hiking will make abdominal muscles more visible. However, targeted core exercises may be needed along with hiking for maximal toning of the midsection.
Does hiking burn a lot of fat?
Vigorous hiking that gets your heart rate into the target zone can burn significant fat due to the aerobic nature of the exercise. A 180-pound person can burn around 400 calories hiking 5 miles with a 30 pound pack. The more varied the terrain, the more calories burned. Hiking hilly trails challenges the body more than flat ones for an increased fat burn.
Why do I feel so good after hiking?
Hiking makes you feel good due to the release of endorphins from prolonged aerobic exercise. Endorphins interact with brain receptors to boost mood and provide pain relief. Being out in nature, away from daily stresses also improves mental well-being. Meeting hiking challenges gives a sense of accomplishment. Staying active outdoors can be energizing and uplifting.
Why do I feel so bad after hiking?
Feeling bad after hiking is often due to dehydration, glycogen depletion and muscle fatigue. Hiking long distances or rugged terrain takes a toll on the body. Post-hike muscle soreness and joint pain from overuse can leave you feeling worn out. Allowing your body adequate recovery with rest, proper nutrition and hydration after each hike is crucial, especially during multi-day treks.
What’s considered a long hike?
Though subjective based on one’s fitness level, a long hike is generally considered anything over 8 miles or more than 5-6 hours of continuous hiking. Hiking mountains or with significant elevation change also falls into the long hike category due to increased effort. For multi-day backpacking trips, covering 15-20 miles per day is a long distance for most hikers.
Why is hiking so addictive?
Hiking can be addictive because of the sense of accomplishment when summiting peaks, the exhilaration of breathtaking views, and the overall feeling of improved mental and physical well-being from being active outdoors. The camaraderie of hiking with others or the sense of solitude on solo hikes keeps people coming back. Unplugging from technology while hiking is also a draw. The more you hike, the more you want to explore new terrain.
How hiking change you?
Regular hiking changes your physique by building endurance, muscle tone, and overall fitness. Mentally, hiking reduces stress, anxiety, and depression by immersing you in nature. Hiking instills confidence by overcoming challenges on trails. You develop persistence and resilience. Hiking’s sense of adventure often leads to a more positive, grounded outlook overall.
Should I rest the day after a hike?
Resting the day after a long, vigorous hike allows your body to go through the muscle recovery process. After intense exertion, your muscles need time to repair microtears and replenish glycogen. Light activity during recovery promotes blood flow to enhance healing. But minimize exercise to give your body what it needs most – rest. Take it easy until any lingering muscle soreness subsides.
Hiking offers a wide range of benefits, from improved body composition and cardiovascular health to better-regulated blood sugar levels and hormonal balance. Given the physical and mental health advantages of hiking, it can be an excellent activity for individuals seeking to enhance their overall well-being. So, wear your hiking boots, head out to the trails, and enjoy these amazing benefits.