With a spring in our step as we roll into 2024, the time seems perfect for thinking about ways to enjoy the year ahead. As January takes off, the gyms will be more crowded, and that’s fun and fine to see fresh faces or be a fresh face at a new place. It does seem that, particularly above the Sunbelt, with a few notable exceptions in ski towns, outside activity gets the short end of the stick until spring rolls around. But those wide-open spaces are even more wide open when the temps are low. There’s always plenty to be concerned about in the world, but getting outdoors is a tried-and-true way to beat back the blues. With that in mind, we invite you to consider an alternative approach to kickstart your 2024 on a high note: hiking. Just put one foot in front of the other, and repeat. Something that simple can provide a great, holistic boost to your well-being.
Embrace the Invigorating Rush of Cold Weather:
There's something uniquely exhilarating about embracing the chill of winter while trekking through the great outdoors. The brisk air invigorates your senses, and can help shake you out of any post-holiday slump. Powering through the cold, your body generates warmth, fostering a sense of resilience and determination that sets the tone for the challenges that lie ahead in the new year. As an added benefit, most unfriendly hinterland dwellers become dormant when the temperatures drop (looking at you rattlesnakes…) making it safer to get off the beaten path not just for people but dogs too. So take your best friends with you if you’re lucky enough to have them.
Cardiovascular Benefits for a Healthy Start:
Hiking is not just a stroll in the park; it's a low-intensity cardiovascular workout that gets your heart pumping and blood flowing. Engaging in regular hiking sessions early in the year sets a solid foundation for improved cardiovascular health. If you think you’re in shape, try Chucker hunting in the Idaho wilderness and see how your lungs and quads hold up. Keep it up over the season and note the progress. It’s a gloriously exhausting and humbling outdoor exercise.
Serenity on Less-Trafficked Trails:
Escape the chaos of daily life by venturing onto less-trafficked trails. Connecting with nature in a serene environment can do wonders for your mental health. The tranquility of the woods or the solitude of the high desert are great therapeutic escapes, allowing time and space to clear your mind and gain perspective. Time outdoors can be a powerful antidote to the pace, stress and noise of the modern world.
Accomplish Unique Fitness Goals:
Setting and achieving fitness goals is a fantastic way to instill a sense of accomplishment and build confidence. Hiking offers a variety of terrains and challenges, allowing you to tailor your goals to your fitness level. Whether it's conquering a steep ascent (unless you’re in Florida or Western Kansas – if that’s you, you’re stuck with flat ground, so pick up the pace!), reaching a specific distance, or exploring a new trail each week, the sense of achievement fuels motivation and self-confidence.
Positive Ripple Effects on Overall Well-being:
The benefits of hiking extend far beyond the physical realm. Engaging with nature has been linked to improved mental health, reduced stress levels, and enhanced creativity. As you build momentum on the trails, in the woods, at the beach, on the prairie or up the canyon, you'll likely find a positive ripple effect in other areas of your life. A clear mind and a healthier body can lead to increased productivity, better relationships, and an overall improved sense of well-being.
Accomplish a Goal That Takes You Out of Your Comfort Zone:
Hiking is great for its own sake, even better if you’re headed somewhere or chasing a goal. Our friend and fellow Idahoan Vince Martino has one of the cooler hiking/outdoors/birding/hunting stories we’ve heard recently. He recounts his adventures from this past fall chasing all nine upland bird species in a single season with On The Wing Podcast host Bob St. Pierre: Watch here
Getting outdoors on foot can be a great way to jumpstart your journey into 2024. From the invigorating rush of cold weather to the cardiovascular benefits, the serenity of less-trafficked trails, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with conquering unique goals, fitness or other, the reasons to hit the trails are as diverse as the landscapes you'll explore. As you lace up your hiking boots, and fill your backpack remember that the benefits extend beyond the physical – paving the way for a more confident, healthier, and balanced version of yourself in the months to come. Happy trails!