Power walking and running are the first things that spring to mind for many when thinking about cardio for weight loss, but nature-loving Britons have taken to a new fitness trend. Now viral on TikTok as one of the most sought-after forms of exercise, Catherine Lauris, manager of Merrell Hiking Club UK, believes it’s something everyone should try this year – especially women. And despite what the name suggests, it’s less about trekking across treacherous terrains than some may think.
Unlike walking, hiking tends to be longer and harder trips that are usually on trails through the mountains, bush, or countryside landscapes.
While powering uphill for hours on end is a surefire way to improve one’s personal fitness while getting outdoors, “soft hiking” takes a more gentle approach – without compromising on the health benefits.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Catherine Lauris said: “Soft hiking allows hikers to enjoy being in nature without any external pressures. You can go at your own pace, stop to look at the scenery, and take breaks whenever you feel like it.
“There is no need to exert yourself or reach a certain goal. With soft hiking, you can simply enjoy being in nature whilst squeezing in some light exercise at the same time.”
Of course, the weight loss benefits will come thick and fast with more challenging routes, but the most important thing to note about this seasonal fitness trend is that it is completely accessible to all age groups and abilities.
And while it being completely free of charge is an added bonus, there are an array of health benefits that come with the experience of soft hiking.
Catherine said: “Hiking is a great way to incorporate a cardio and muscle workout into your routine without the extra strain of high-intensity activity like running.
“It improves cardiovascular health because it involves sustained physical activity that increases heart rate and breathing rate.”
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With equal pay-off as a sweaty gym session, this can strengthen the heart and lungs while improving circulation throughout the body.
And according to Catherine, making soft hiking a regular activity has longer-term benefits, like reducing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol.
For those concerned about losing out on targeted muscle toning movements used in most workouts, hiking still ticks this box by working the quads as your legs incline.
Paired with a healthy diet, soft hiking is also a great weight loss aid – though there are several other benefits which go beyond the physical results.
Catherine noted that reduced stress and sustained happiness are other reasons to try this fitness trend. She said: “Spending time in nature is a healthy way to cope with the stress that many of us encounter in our everyday lives.
“It is proven to relieve stress as it assists in reducing cortisol – the primary stress hormone. When you hike, your body releases adrenaline, endorphins and serotonin, which are proven to make you feel happier.
“Being outdoors can also calm anxiety and reduce the risk of depression. It is an effective treatment option that is accessible to the majority of people.”
For mature hikers, there is the added advantage of improved cognitive function as a result of increased blood flow to the brain. This is believed to promote the growth of new neurons which maintain a healthy attention span, memory and problem-solving skills.
While taking up soft hiking as a solo activity is an ideal escape from the pressures of everyday life, doing it in a group can be more enjoyable – and give women peace of mind.
Catherine told Express.co.uk: “Merrell Hiking Club aims to establish a female-led, online and real-world community where people can learn from each other and support each other. It provides an inclusive, safe space for hikers of all levels to connect.”
Organised through a Facebook group, hikers can gain advice from highly experienced trailblazers and other impressive mountaineers, while meeting other like-minded women. The club runs regular hikes all over the UK led by certified guides and is completely free of charge.
Catherine said: “No matter where you’re from, who you love, or what your experience level is, at Merrell Hiking Club, we walk together and support each other.”
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