Walking vs hiking: what is the best workout? Here are the advantages of each

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In addition, the sister activity of walking, hiking, seduced 57.8 million Americans to hit the trails in 2020, a figure that has increased significantly since 2014.

Both tick the boxes to get you moving outdoors, a low-risk activity during a pandemic. But are these two forms of exercise really that different from each other? And if so, which one is the best for you?

Walking is typically an exercise you do outdoors in an urban or suburban setting, or indoors in a gym on a track or treadmill. Hiking, on the other hand, is a walk that is done in the open air and along natural terrain. You will usually experience elevation changes when hiking, but not necessarily when walking.

Both activities are low impact cardiovascular exercises that can help you manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They’re also great for your heart, said cardiologist Dr Fahmi Farah, founder and medical director of Bentley Heart Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. “Walking is one of the best heart health workouts for all ages, including those with heart problems and conditions,” she said. “Hiking is also good for the heart and burns more calories in less time.” No one form of exercise is better than the other, according to Farah.

“Both are great for improving heart and lung performance, and hiking and walking can help you lose weight,” said Darryl Higgins, fitness expert and founder of Athlete Desk, a company that tests and evaluates products such as treadmills and bike desks.

Which exercise is best for you depends on your fitness goals and personal preferences. Here are four key considerations to help you decide whether to go for a walk or a hike.

Important note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.

You want to burn the most calories: go for a hike

The number of calories you can burn on a hike versus a walk depends primarily on your weight, the slope of the trail, and how much weight you are carrying on your back. Other factors include the weather, your age and gender, and the roughness of the terrain.

While you can burn around 100 calories per mile walking, you can easily double that number while hiking. And if you strap a heavy pack on your back and tackle steep, arduous terrain, that number can skyrocket. well over 500 calories per hour.
Don’t have time to drive to a trail? Then embark on an urban hike, where you load up a backpack and stroll through a hilly area. If you use hiking poles and move at a sustained pace, arm movement adds intensity to your aerobic training, helping to increase your calorie burn, according to the mayo clinic.

You want the cheapest option: take a walk

The walk is free. Just put on comfortable, loose clothing and supportive shoes, then walk out the door. There really isn’t much more, but watch the video above for some expert advice on good form. Hiking can be as inexpensive as walking if you have easy access to a trail and are only going for a short jaunt. But this is usually not the case.
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The hike often requires driving to a trail, which can be several hours away and require a user fee. And while you can get by with the same clothes you use for walking, you are better off wearing clothes designed specifically for hiking, such as hiking shoes, hiking pants, and breathable layers. You’ll also need at least some specialized gear, like a backpack, hiking poles, and a water bottle or bladder. And if you’re hiking, be prepared to shell out hundreds of dollars for extra gear like a tent, sleeping bag, and camping stove.

You want the safest activity: take a walk

While hiking is not a dangerous activity in itself, it does come with risks. “The hike can be tiring,” Higgins said. “It might not be ideal for beginners who don’t know rough terrain.”

How to enjoy working out if you hate exercise

If you stumble and fall on a rocky, root-filled path, you could end up with a sprained ankle or a broken bone. And there are the various bugs and critters in the woods, which range from pesky mosquitoes to potentially deadly snakes, bears or cougars. Cell service is often spotty or nonexistent on the trail as well, so if you’re having issues it can be difficult to ask for help.

Walking, on the other hand, is much safer. Of course, you can still sprain your ankle when stepping off a sidewalk. But if you do, help is close by. What if the weather gets gloomy? You can call a friend for a ride or hail a cab. Perhaps the biggest concern comes from walking after dark. If this is your preferred time, be sure to wear reflective clothing and be aware of your surroundings. And don’t go alone in the wee hours of the morning.

You want to de-stress: Go for a hike

Walking and hiking help reduce stress and anxiety, like most forms of physical activity. Exercise is also great for improving alertness and focus, reducing fatigue, and boosting your overall cognitive function, according to the American Association for Anxiety and Depression. But hiking offers additional calming benefits, as it takes place in nature.
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Over the years, many studies have linked outdoor activities to mental well-being. Barely 10 minutes in a natural setting increase happiness and reduce physical and mental stress, according to a 2020 Cornell University study. And one 2018 study published in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing showed that when people were in nature, they became calmer and developed a sense of community, common purpose and belonging.

If you can’t hike but need a good dose of calm, walking outside in town or in a local park is always better than walking in the gym. But if you can walk in the woods, do it.


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