Our college years are filled with countless experiences: the freedom to explore, the opportunity to meet new people, and plenty of networking possibilities. But college is also an incredibly stressful time for the student focused on making the absolute best of a tertiary education. There’s tons of work, tight deadlines, and the struggle to keep up with bills.
With all the pressure thrust upon you it’s easy to get worn down. It gets tempting to lock yourself in your room to cram, sleep, and binge watch Netflix. But this lifestyle has earned many a college student the dreaded “freshman fifteen” – made worse by late night tacos and midday pizzas. Add another three years to complete your studies and the physical and mental stress takes a real toll on your body.
So what can you do to improve both your physical and mental health? Well, go hiking of course. I know, I know. You’re already thinking: I don’t have the time. I’m already so tired. I don’t have the strength for that. But if you can make the time, hiking can rejuvenate you by giving you the chance to get some exercise in and clear your head.
Here are some reasons you should give it a try.
#1 – You’ll Look Better
Classes, socializing, and living away from home are all part of a strange new world that can wear you out. You may find that with all the reading, writing, and studying you have to do that you’re more sedentary than you’ve ever been. With all the current hype about working out and getting fit, it shouldn’t surprise you that that much time sitting is terrible for your body.
Hiking can fight that and help you stay in shape! It can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, lower blood pressure, help build lean muscle, strengthen your bones, improve sleep, and help prevent weight-gain. In short, taking a weekly or bi-weekly hike will help take you one step closer to the body you’ve always dreamed of.
#2 – You’ll Feel Better
College is taxing: no doubt about that. But when you take a hike, and rest beneath a century-old tree or just look up into a big blue sky, you start thinking about things differently. You start to see a bigger picture.
Finals week is never awesome, but it will end. Papers all come due on the same day for some reason and it sucks, but you’ll get past it. College is hard, but you’ll grow stronger and move on to the next challenge. Time spent hiking will help you internalize that.
It reminds you that there’s a big world outside of school. If you let that sink in you’ll realize that all the difficult obstacles you’re facing are just training exercises for the bigger and better things in store for you.
This perspective can empower you to make the most of your college years, not to mention whatever comes next.
#3 – You can Hack your Brain!
Research has shown that walking leads to enhanced creativity, as does spending time away from the computer, tablet, and smartphone screens. Individuals who exercise regularly tend to perform better intellectually, while those who spend time in nature experience longer attention spans, and improved problem solving skills.
Pounding away at the keyboard or burying yourself in books may seem like the best way to finish difficult assignments, but it’s often better to get away for a bit. Spending some time hiking will clear your head, and prime your brain for creative problem solving. Not only will you feel great, but you’re likely to perform better when you return to the task.
#4 – Hiking > Gym
Gym memberships are expensive and for the college student on a shoe-string budget, this might just not be an option for getting fit and staying in shape. Hiking, on the other hand, barely costs a penny!
If you’re lucky, your school might have a half-decent gym or rec center available. Even then, adding weekly or bi-weekly hikes to the gym can mean more bathing suit options for girls (summer is right around the corner!) and help guys cover that cardio we can’t be bothered with.
It’s true that you could burn more calories per hour lifting weights, or even running to nowhere on a treadmill, but three hours hiking is a lot more fun than three hours at the gym. The trail beats the gym hands down and you can count on building increased stamina and endurance. Pretty sure you could find good use for that!
#5 – Fun Way to get Social
Going to the movies, hitting the clubs or bars, and eating out at restaurants are all fun ways to bond with the friends you make during your college years. They can also be really expensive, and those costs add up. Hiking is dirt cheap and you can make a whole day of it. Get a couple of friends, pack lunch beforehand, and head out for a picnic at a scenic view.
Lots of colleges have outdoor or hiking clubs that can help facilitate this, but if yours doesn’t, look for nearby places to hike online and invite a few people from your dorm or class to join you. You’ll all reap the benefits of hiking while having a great time with friends.
#6 – You can Learn Interesting Tidbits
There is a whole lot more to your new locale than campus and your favorite restaurant. Every town or city has a history and its own unique environment, but you won’t learn much about it by staying on campus. Exploring nearby State or National Parks, Historic Sites, or Nature Preserves will help you connect to your new home away from home.
You could also learn more practical things like finding your way back to your car without GPS before the sun goes down, or knowing what snakes are poisonous in case you run into any. These are excellent skills that come in handy in life; whether women are looking for an extra boost to their self-reliance or guys want to wow a special female with their “manly” one-on-one battles with nature in the great outdoors.
#7 – It Takes Way Less Time than You Think
Focusing on the negatives is what our generation does best. It’s why negative headlines tend to go viral while positive headlines often times go ignored. It’s easy to worry about how busy we are. We find ourselves saying: I don’t have time to go for a run, hit the gym, go hiking, or eat right. But if you don’t make time to care for yourself now, you’ll have to make even more time (and money!) for it later.
There’s nothing wrong with comic books, video games, and clubbing as part of the college experience and good wholesome fun. However, hiking is a healthy reminder that there are sometimes much better ways we could be spending our time. Even a half an hour of hiking is enough to yield the physical and mental health benefits mentioned before.
And by starting good habits and healthy hobbies now, you’re setting yourself up for a healthier, more fit you for the long road ahead.
Being active outdoors gives me peace of mind, and I think everyone should try to find theirs in nature as well. Even if you’re smack in the middle of the urban life, tons of cities have bike paths and parks that could serve you well, and plenty of clubs and volunteer opportunities could take you into the great outdoors.
If you’re still unsure if hiking is for you, give it a try anyway. You’ll thank me later…