Hiking for your health

Walking in nature has proven fitness benefits

by Abby Henkel, Communications Director

— This article was originally printed in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of our newsletter, The Twig. See a PDF of the complete newsletter.

Everyone knows that hiking and walking are good for you, but do you actually know why? What is it about fresh air and sunshine, or even a cloudy day, that make you feel better about your day, your body, and your surroundings?

Mental Wellness

  • A group of Stanford scientists found that walking for 90 minutes in nature has a greater impact on reducing signs of depression than a 90-minute walk in an urban setting. (
  • Completing a hike leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and pride, and reduces stress. (

Physical Fitness

  • An hour of hiking can burn 500 calories or more. (
  • Hiking is often better on your joints than a run or walk on pavement, which inflicts more impact than a trail.


  • One study found that participants who stared up at a grove of very tall trees for even one minute approached dilemmas more ethically and demonstrated more helpful behavior than those who spent the same time looking up at a tall building. (

Work Performance

  • Hiking has been shown to improve attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent. (

Disease Resistance

  • The cardiovascular benefits of hiking are abundant, like lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. (

“Hiking is an activity that I recommend for many of my patients,” explains Dr. Timothy Steiner of Bloomington, specializes in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine. “It is an excellent choice for regular exercise because it’s a weight-bearing, nonimpact, cardiovascular activity. Weight-bearing activities help strengthen the skeleton, and can even prevent osteoporosis with repetition over long periods of time. Non-impact activity is good for joints, and something that even those with arthritis can tolerate.”

Sycamore’s Executive Director, Christian Freitag, recognizes the healing potential of hiking in his own life. An avid hiker his whole life, he still suffered from high blood pressure. Last summer, he set about to improve his health, and started hiking five miles a day at his favorite spots around Monroe Co. After four months, Christian was 60 pounds lighter with ideal blood pressure. All in all, Christian hiked 430 miles on Indiana trails last year and was proud to complete the Bicentennial Hikers Challenge.

Hiking can provide a full-body workout for even the toughest athletes, as Dr. Steiner elaborates:

“Different types of terrain, such as going up and down hills or steps, use different muscle groups in the legs, torso, and even arms when using poles. The degree of intensity created by differences in terrain and pace can make hiking a strenuous aerobic workout, a stress-relieving stroll, or an activity that friends of different physical conditions can do together.”

“Although I don’t recommend hiking on its own for treatment of medical conditions,” he adds, “it certainly is something that is well tolerated and good for rehabilitation after certain injuries and surgeries.”

Sycamore preserves and protects land, but another important part of our mission is connecting people to nature. The trails on our sixteen public nature preserves offer people free opportunities for exercise, a chance to escape the bustle of everyday life, and a place to develop pride in the land we call home.