Hiking is a popular outdoor activity that’s widely enjoyed! If you’re an occasional hiker who hits the trails once a week, you may wonder if it’s enough to meet your exercise requirements. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate to high-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening per week, and it’s important to know whether hiking once a week is sufficient to fulfill these requirements. In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits that hiking can offer and discuss whether hiking once a week is enough to meet your exercise needs.

Health Benefits of Hiking

Hiking provides an abundance of physical benefits. Let’s look through the various physical benefits you can experience.

Improved Cardio Fitness

Hiking improves the level at which your lungs and heart supply sufficient oxygen to your body for an extended period of time during aerobic activity. An increase in heart rate can help control your blood sugar, lower your blood pressure, and keep your arteries functioning well. 

Strengthened Respiratory Muscles & Lung Capacity

According to the National Institute of Health, your breath increases 40-60 times per minute to keep your muscles working while hiking, when in a resting state you breathe an average of only 15 times per minute. The more you get out and walk or hike, the more improved your lung capacity can become. This is especially true if you’re challenging yourself with hikes that have steep inclines that stimulate your heart and lungs even more. According to Dr. Richard Miller, one breathing technique you can use is “Inhale as you step forward with one foot, then exhale with the next step of that same foot. As you relax, you can take fewer, longer breaths coordinated with more strides. This settles the body and mind into a natural rhythm of walking.”

Balance & Coordination

According to Harvard Medical School, hiking can support your balance and coordination. Taking a hike on a trail with an uneven surface provides a natural way for you to engage your core muscles within a lateral motion. If you suffer with stability or vision, walking/trekking poles can provide support. Hiking can still help you improve your balance and coordination, even if you use hiking poles. 

Strengthened Muscles & Bones

Hiking can strengthen your muscles and bones. According to the NIH Osteoporosis & Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, hiking is one of the best weight-bearing exercises that can help strengthen your bones. This can help prevent osteoporosis, and lead to better overall health. Your muscles can also be strengthened while hiking. When engaging your muscles, your muscle fibers will tear and repair, leading to muscle hypertrophy (increased muscle mass). Keep in mind that diet and nutrition play a huge role in building muscle. If you push your body too hard without an adequate amount of calories, your body can start to use muscle fibers & their glycogen stores to sustain you. Improper fueling with any cardio exercise can lead to a decrease in muscle mass. 


*Exercise Recommendations

According to the CDC, current recommendations for adult exercise is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle strengthening. The muscle groups worked should be 2+ days per week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). You’ll notice when glancing over the recommended levels of exercise for health benefits that strength training is listed in every example. More research is coming out showing that strength training is needed to improve glucose metabolism, maintain healthy body weight, and improve cardiovascular risk factors. Different forms of resistance training include using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, and your own body weight. 


Does Hiking Once a Week Give You Enough Exercise?

Given the recommendations from the CDC, hiking can help you work towards a goal of 150 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise per week. Given the recommendations, hiking once a week will not give you enough exercise to fulfill the moderate to high-intensity exercise requirements and 2 days of muscle strengthening per week. 


As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass. Muscle mass decreases approximately 3-8% per decade after the age of 30, and this rate is even higher after the age of 60. A decrease in muscle mass is natural without participating in a strength training program over time. This is a contributing factor to why the CDC recommends 2 or more days per week of exercise that works for all major muscle groups. Even though hiking alone won’t meet these recommendations, it is still a great way to fulfill your moderate to high-intensity exercise requirement! Just like we outlined the physical health benefits of hiking before, there are also multiple mental health benefits you can experience:


  1. A decrease in depression and anxiety.

A study from Stanford researchers found evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression. Nature has also been shown to positively affect mood, memory, and lessen anxiety. 


  1. An increase in creativity.

One study has shown that attention restoration and mind wandering positively affect a generation of new ideas. Focusing on natural elements such as water or a winding trail can allow new thoughts to enter. 


  1. An increase in self-esteem.

Conquering physical goals can help boost our self-esteem. Often, hikes come with a “mountaintop” experience at the end. Feeling accomplished by finishing a hike can have these effects. 


  1. Improved sleep & rest.

Hiking might help you sleep better. Researchers widely believe that most people sleep better if they incorporate physical activity into their lives.


Overall, hiking is a great way to contribute to moderate to high-intensity exercise. If you’d like to learn more about the top health benefits of hiking, you can read more here


*Please always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.