When we want to improve our health, our first thought is usually to buy gym membership. However, there’s another option right at our doorstep, and it’s free! Hiking. Far from being “just a walk”, this is one of the most effective and accessible exercises out there. Being both more sociable, and of course, affordable, it’s no wonder that hiking has seen a resurgence in the UK. AXA healthcare psychologist, Sarah Kemp (axappphealthcare.co.uk/small-business), tells us why we should give the great outdoors a try.

1. From newbies to gym-fanatics

Whether you’re always at the gym, or have never stepped foot in one, there’s still something hiking has to offer you. If you’re new to fitness, you can go for a quick 30-minute hike to build up your endurance. Unlike signing up with gym, it’s also more accessible – just plan your route and head off! Sarah recommends going on a hike every so often to break up your routine. “A 30-minute hike on active recovery days would be enough to flush out the built-up lactic acids in your lower body muscles,” says Sarah. “Hiking can be a great alternative to build up your strength in a different way to being in the gym.”

2. A natural mood-lifter

A 2009 study at the University of Rochester shows that we prefer to be surrounded by mother nature, and that it even makes us more caring to those around us. So it’s no surprise that the emotional benefits to hiking are plentiful. Sarah agrees with this study: “as humans, we’re naturally drawn to outdoor spaces, with hiking providing a cathartic experience”. She even claims that this chance to de-stress reduces the risk of depression and anxiety. To get the most out of your hike, it’s also suggested you leave as many gadgets at home as you can. Consider printing out a map of your route before you set off. Perhaps even pick up a cheap camera for your hiking snaps, so you’re not tempted by your smartphone.

3. No part of the body misses out

You’d be surprised how much of the body is getting a workout when you go on a good hike. This is because, unlike a jaunt around the block, a hike involves traversing hilly, rocky and very varied terrain, naturally putting more of the body to work. “Hiking offers a full-bodied workout, especially with a hilly route as it’s stressing the cardiovascular system”, highlights Sarah. “It also works your glutes and quads to manage the terrain.” Better yet, it doesn’t put much stress on the joints, making it the perfect way to keep fit if you have weak bone density.

4. And of course, it’s always there (and free!)

Okay, we’ve already touched on this, but how many other exercises have this many benefits and don’t have to cost a penny? If you’re lucky enough to live near nature you won’t be short of inspiration for your treks. But even if you fare from the big city, there are still options if you’re willing to hop in the car. Whether it be Great Glen Way in Scotland, Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales or Malham Cove in England, the UK definitely isn’t short of options.

Looking to get geared up for your hike? Here are our picks for planet-friendly fitwear to kitted out on.