This Is What Hiking Can Do for Your Mind, Body and Spirit

Every hiker knows that when you’re out on a trail, some truly amazing things can happen. There’s something special about lacing up a pair of boots and hitting the dirt. Breathing in the fresh, crisp air. Walking up the hills and through the woods. Taking in the sights. Listening to the sounds. Feeling present and alive.

Every new hike is an adventure, a chance to discover something new, an opportunity to figure out something about yourself and about life. Of course, not every trek leads to a life-altering realization, but the potential is always there.

At ParticipACTION, we’re keenly interested in knowing why that is — especially this year, as The Great Trail aims to connect across the country in 2017, making it the longest recreational trail in the world. That’s 24,000 km to experience the amazing things that happen to your body, mind and spirit when you’re hiking.

Your Body

Almost the moment you hit the trail, things start happening in your body. Your muscles start burning glucose, your heart pumps faster and your lungs breathe deeper. Your body recognizes that it needs more oxygen and does everything it can to get it.

As you hike farther, tiny tears form in your muscles that lead to soreness, and also, in time, to new growth. Your body, like an engine, begins to heat up. To cool down, the blood vessels in your skin dilate and you start to sweat to release excess heat.

Your face becomes red as blood continues to course through your veins. Your lungs reach their maximum ability to deliver more energy to your arms and legs. The adrenal glands above your kidneys release adrenaline to help your heart beat faster and the slow-twitch fibres in your muscles activate to keep you moving.

In short, as your body moves faster outside, what’s inside moves faster, too.

Your Brain

What happens in your brain is even more spectacular.

The increased blood flow makes you feel more alert. The greater amount of oxygen leads to the growth of new brain cells and turns on certain genes that promote mental health. The rush of endorphins can lead to feelings of euphoria, while the boost in serotonin certainly doesn’t hurt.

Your Spirit

Yet, there’s also something spiritual that happens that’s a little more difficult to explain.

With your heart pumping, your body sweating and your brain flooded with feel-good hormones, it’s almost impossible not to feel more awake, more alive and more inspired. Just breathing in the fresh air and walking through the woods has been found to reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being.

But there’s more to it than that.

There’s an unmistakeable feeling of connection, both to our individual history and collective past. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation. One hundred and fifty years of Canadian history. Of persevering through wind and snow. Of climbing over mountains and paddling down rivers. Of hiking trails.

To celebrate, ParticipACTION has created the 150 Play List — the ultimate list of Canadian activities — and we’re challenging Canadians everywhere to try as many as possible in 2017. Our hope is that you will take up the challenge and set out on a new adventure.

Whether that’s playing a sport that you’ve always wanted to try like curling (#5), rediscovering something you loved to do as a child like climbing trees (#48), or hiking The Great Trail (#150), we want you to personally feel what physical activity can do for your mind, body and spirit. We want you to embrace our active past.

We can’t promise you’ll have a transformative experience, but we know there’s good reason to believe it’s possible.

Get started today at ParticipACTION.com/150