This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
Two years ago my friend and colleague Johan Petri and I started our pet project Nord Nature – a trekking company offering all-inclusive hiking trips in northern Sweden. Why do two business lawyers set up a trekking company? Answer: we wanted to share. Share the benefits of hiking in nature. Hiking and staying out of mobile phone coverage. We had, for different reasons, intuitively used hiking (and other activities in nature) to recover mentally over the years and wished that more people experience the benefits.
To answer this, we first asked our guests (and ourselves) to describe what they experienced. After that we checked what science says. I will get back in a later post with more details on the existing scientific research, but in short, research shows that:
- you get smarter (your cognitive ability increases),
- you get leaner (you burn not only fat, but the right kind of fat),
- you get happier (experiences give you more happiness than things), and
- you get more relaxed (digital fasting removes stress).
But now let’s turn to what our guests experienced.
Let me first explain the setting. Our guests hike with us on either a three day, a six day or a custom hike (almost never less than three days) in Swedish Lapland well above the polar circle. Our hikes are all set in the surroundings of the famous King’s Trail (Kungsleden), but we try to stay off the trail as much as possible (it’s better off trail, believe me). We sleep in tents. We carry all equipment and food with us. So it’s hiking “for real”, but we really try to go the extra mile to ensure that it is real hiking made as comfortable as technically and humanly possible without resorting to luxury cabins, carriers or fixed food stations out in the wild.
Here goes our guests’ experienced benefits:
Check where you put your feet!
First benefit. You need to constantly check where you put your feet. Literally.
Ok, so how can this be beneficial? Well, by focusing on the immediate task at hand, you are very present. All the time. You are here when it’s happening. RIGHT NOW. People learn to meditate and exercise mindfulness techniques to obtain this benefit. When hiking you are constantly in the now. You’re walking on stony ground. You’re eating. You’re setting up camp. You’re watching the view. The basics (walking, eating, keeping dry and warm, resting, sleeping etc.) are in focus. Very powerful to do this continuously for several days.
Second benefit. Much deeper dialogue. What do our guests mean by this? Let’s take a typical social event – say a dinner with a group of people. The dinner will probably go on for a couple of hours during which a number of topics will be discussed. Have you ever felt like a dinner discussion like this is a fight for air time? I do all the time. I catch myself thinking more on what I am going to say next, than on what the person talking right now is saying. Too bad really. And I always come up with new angles when everyone has left (I’m slow, I know, but still too bad…)
Our guests reported something fascinating on this topic. Since you are together in a small group without distraction for several days, there is no need to fight for air time or to make quick points. Discussions tend to fade out and then resurface later over the course of days, leading to a much deeper dialogue and way more listening than normal. This benefit typically surfaces a day or two into the hike. At first, people tend to apply their normal life discussion techniques, but after a while we all understand that there is no rush. I love this! I think this is an extremely cool benefit.
Forced cold turkey on your digital addictions
Third benefit. Digital detox. Telling yourself to check your smartphone less is hard. You know it’s good for you to limit the time you spend digitally connected, but it’s hard to cut down. When hiking in Swedish Lapland it’s not. There is no mobile phone coverage. None. Zip. Nil. Except for a few kilometers in the beginning and end, there really is no connection. I’m not talking bad reception here. I’m talking nonexistent. This means that you will be digitally detoxed automatically. It’s not up to your willpower. The mountains do that for you. Worried you have a slight digital addiction? Take a hike!
Turbo charged metabolism
Fourth benefit. Low-to-medium intensity training for six to eight hours each day. During six days. This will turbo charge your metabolism. Our guests typically notice this on day three. After having rolled your eyes when the guides nag on you for the hundredth time to eat more, your body adapts to the intensity and starts burning energy like a formula one racing car. You get hungry. The benefit: this super metabolism stays with you for up to several weeks after you get home.
The wonderful relaxing feeling nature gives
Last benefit. Relaxation. Typically the relaxation peak is felt best the second and third day of a six day trek. You have adapted to the calm. And have more than half the trip left. In the wild. Without your mobile phone. Surrounded by beautiful nature. This is it.
Do something today that your future self will thank you for.
Explore. Dream. Discover.
And for all you science nerds – yes, the post on what science says about hiking will follow soon. Be sure to check it out too.