Hiking For Health

Uphill and downhill hiking provides different benefits for the body and the mind

If you're reading this blog, you probably already know that hiking works wonders for your personal physical and mental health—and if you're anything like us at BACKPACKER, you take every opportunity to give yourself a fresh dosage. But it might surprise you to learn that our bodies actually get different benefits from hiking uphill vs. hiking downhill.

To explore the specific benefits of hiking, Austrian researchers enlisted two groups of hikers as guinea pigs: One group hiked up an Alps ski resort mountain and descended by gondola. After two weeks, the groups switched, and when they looked into the effect of different types of hiking on fat and sugar levels in the blood, the Austrian researchers found divergent results. Take it away, Science:

As expected, hiking uphill proved to be a great workout and provided measurable health benefits. Unexpectedly, researchers from the Vorarlberg Institute for Vascular Investigation and Treatment discovered that hiking downhill also has unique benefits. 

Both uphill and downhill hiking reduced LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Only hiking uphill reduced triglyceride levels. The study's surprise finding was that hiking downhill was nearly twice as effective as uphill hiking at removing blood sugars and improving glucose tolerance.

Meanwhile, over in jolly old England, a bunch scientists decided to test the effects of hiking on depression sufferers. One group of depressed hikers marched through a mall, while the other hiked through lakeside trails in the woods. Results showed that hiking in wilderness not only decreased depression, but walking in shopping malls actually increased the feeling of being depressed. (This goes a long way towards explaining why people smile at you on trails, yet those same people will kill you with a stare in Best Buy during holiday shopping season.)

Again, science:

71 percent reported decreased levels of depression after hiking, while 22 percent of the participants felt their depression increased after walking through an indoor shopping center. Ninety percent reported their self-esteem increased after the nature hike, while 44 percent reported decreased self-esteem after walking around the shopping center. Eighty-eight percent of people reported improved mood after hiking, while 44.5 percent reported feeling in a worse mood after the shopping-center walk.

I feel a little bad about the depressive folks who drew the "march through a mall" straw, but maybe they'll be comforted by knowing they suffered for science and the good of mankind. Either way, that's pretty much all the incentive I need to blow this joint and hit the trail. See ya, Internets!

If you could hike anywhere right this second, where would you go? Tell us in the comments section below.

—Ted Alvarez

Studies confirm hiking good for body (Miller-McCune)

via Two-Heel Drive