The Most Underrated Endurance Workout? Hiking

Have you ever met anyone who regretted taking a good, hard day hike? Me neither.

There’s something special about moderately paced movement through nature that leaves one feeling refreshed, renewed, and satisfied. Recent studies show that a walk in the woods—especially at the right tempo—is a superb way to build endurance and strength.

For a study published earlier this year in the journal PLOS One, a team of researchers affiliated with the University of Innsbruck in Austria had individuals complete two three-hour workouts under distinct conditions. The first was a “fast walk” on an indoor treadmill; the second was an outdoor hike through mountains. In the treadmill condition, the incline settings were contrived to mimic the outdoor route as closely as possible, so that the physical strain of both scenarios would be similar. (The researchers could not force the treadmills to decline, so outdoor downhill segments became indoor flat segments.)

During and immediately following both workouts, the researchers collected physiological and psychological measures. What they found is interesting, a bit paradoxical, and fully in support of hiking.

For starters, participants pushed themselves harder during the outdoor hike, as evidenced by heart rates that were, on average, six beats per minute higher. Given this, you’d think the participants would have experienced the outdoor hike as more tiring and perhaps less enjoyable. But the opposite occurred: They reported increased feelings of pleasure both during and immediately following the outdoor hike, and they said they felt less fatigued afterward.

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