If you’re looking for an activity that will appeal to all ages and promote quality family bonding, hiking is the way to go. Whether you are just starting out with little ones, or your family has a flock of teenagers — there is a hike perfectly suited for you and your family. The benefits of hiking go so much further than just physical exercise – it’s a mental health boost, a chance to reconnect with nature, and most importantly, hiking strengthens family bonds. Read on as we explain the seven most important ways that hiking will bring balance encourage better relationships within your family.
1. Exercises Releases Endorphins & Improves Attitudes
Not only does physical exercise strengthen your body, but it releases endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. Boosting endorphins is proven to improve abilities to sleep, reduces stress and anxiety, and generally brings a lift to your mental health. Getting the whole family out for hiking–whether strenuous or not– helps get the blood pumping and oxygen circulating. Maybe its the endorphins, maybe the fresh air, maybe its just getting away from daily life – but whatever the magic ingredient is, moods and attitudes improve as your brood hits the trail.
* Note: if you have a couple of kids who refuse to submit to the endorphin theory and continue to bicker, go ahead and pick up the pace – clearly they have extra energy and breath being wasted on arguing!
2. Silence is Golden–Nature Does the Speaking
One of my favorite things about hiking with my family is the time to just be together, but not necessarily have to speak. When we hike as a family, we try to spend at least some time hiking silently and observing nature. Its amazing how much you notice about nature and the hike: bird calls, water running, squirrels scampering, leaves rustling in the breeze. This time serves a dual purpose of letting each of us commune in our own personal way with nature while also giving us time to relax, focus on our footwork, and mentally zone out.
Of course, if you have non-stop Chatty-Cathy children like I do — you actually have to make a ‘talking-time-out’ part of the hike or you’ll never get to hear that silence!
3. Difficult/Tricky Conversations are Easier While Hiking
This benefit is probably more relevant to those of us when teens and tweens, but it works on any age. Sometimes we need to have difficult conversations and it just never seems like the right time to sit down and discuss whatever is going on. The phrase, “We need to talk” strikes dread in most anyone (I mean, has anyone in the history of the world started a conversation “We need to talk…about how I won the lottery and want to give you half.” — I think not.) But when you are hiking, and focusing on the nature surrounding you, and your breathing as you labor up an incline, holding these sensitive conversations can be a little easier. I think its probably something to do with the fact that everyone isn’t trapped around a table dealing with whatever is being discussed, and instead nervous energy can be expelled through hiking – it feels more natural and comfortable – for everyone.
4. No Digital Devices
In today’s electronic-heavy world, it seems like its virtually impossible to take a break from our devices, but when we head out on a family hike, leaving the phones off (we do bring one in our packs in case we have an emergency) is easy and natural. In fact, the minute we’re a few feet onto most trails, there isn’t any signal anyway. Knowing that all devices are off for our time in nature is liberating. I don’t feel like I should be answering emails, checking texts, or restocking our paper towels–I can focus entirely on our family time.
The same goes for children who normally would rather be playing video games, texting friends, or doing who-knows-what on whatever App is currently the big player. Everyone is relieved of their digital social obligations/inclinations while hiking with the family. In today’s world, this family time is even more precious.
5. Physical Challenges Allow Siblings Help Each Other
Hiking with the whole family does have an extra challenge of finding a trail that is easy enough for the youngest member of your brood while also being challenging enough not to bore the oldest member. You’ll usually end up with a hike that is somewhere in the middle of the difficulty range – which means that the youngest child might have trouble sometimes, while the oldest might find it a bit easy. Instead of causing issues, this arrangement lends itself to cooperation and sibling bonding. Encourage your children to work together to conquer their hiking challenges. Older kids can help little ones scramble up rocks and over fallen trees. Younger children can help with keeping motivation.
6. Hiking Means A Get Away From Regular Life
Sometimes it can feel like family-time is hacked away by after school activities, sports practices, homework, video games, and social events. Pretty soon, it seems like there isn’t time for the family to connect at all. Scheduling a whole Saturday just for the family hike is the antidote to the schedule-mania. It forces everyone (even us parents) to set aside our normal obligation/chores/plans in favor of pure family time. This is time well spent.
7. Hiking Makes Family Memories
Families that hike together are never in short supply of great stories to tell and retell from past adventures. Even the bad ones – the sudden rain downpour, the slip and fall, the missed trail marker — the fact that your family made it through those experiences together is the glue that helps family bonds to set strong.
Families that hike together are stronger, happier, and healthier. You can pick up a local trail guide book from the library and start researching your next family adventure together! Start small and work your way up. You’ll find that its a lot of fun to explore your section of the world one trail at a time! Don’t forget your camera!