Hiking Warms the Heart

By Colleen Campion, Watershed Specialist, Wayne Conservation District

Once considered a rude exclamation, studies are showing that telling someone to ‘take a hike’ can now also be looked at as a healthy prescription to reduce stress and strengthen the heart. The physical health gains from hiking, such as improved balance, stronger bones and muscle systems, and decreased risk of heart disease, have long been popularly acknowledged. Now, we are starting to see a growing catalog of research aimed at studying the relationship between time spent in nature and the well-being of the emotional heart.

There is a strong web of connectivity between the conditions of physical health, emotional balance, and social attachment. Qualities relating to one can greatly impact the other two states in ways that may not always be obvious. Many people experienced the ebb and flow of this complex interaction with glaring clarity this past year. And some have chosen to look at these personal capacities with new eyes.

In spite of closures and travel restrictions, public lands saw record numbers of visitors in 2020 as people flooded into open, green spaces. It’s evident that outdoor recreation turned medicinal for people who may have historically taken it for granted in the past. But old habits die hard. It’s valuable to continue to renew your relationship with nature often and to strive to make that time in the great outdoors meaningful for yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant; just continual and with intent.

Hiking is an easily accessible activity that lends itself plainly to nearly anyone, regardless of age or athletic ability. Even during the winter months, hiking can be scaled to fit just the right level of personal challenge. Whether you choose a gentle walk along a flat, well-maintained path or a more demanding rock scramble through the woods, make that time to get outside. Make the time to care for your well-being across all landscapes, not just physically. And make the time to appreciate nature with all of your heart.

Colleen Campion specializes in watershed conservation through monitoring, technical assistance, and education. The Wayne Conservation District is a legal subdivision of state government, responsible for conservation work within Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Decisions about conservation issues are made at the local level by citizens who understand and want to protect and improve their local environment.   Email: waynecd@waynecountypa.gov   Phone: (570) 253-0930