We all know hiking is good for you. It’s an aerobic exercise that gets you moving out in nature. But the benefits to mind, body and soul go much deeper; deeper than you could ever imagine until you read Hiking! The Ultimate Prescription for Health and Wellness by Palm Springs residents Philip Ferranti and Cecilia Leyva  with Joie Goodkin. 

No one needs to read a book about the health benefits of hiking, but it sure was fun and inspiring to read this one. Ferranti’s lifelong passion for the activity is contagious, and with each chapter, you want to lace up your boots and hit the trail to realize the psychology, spirituality, romance, creativity and community to which it opens your mind.

I love hiking and agree there is something sacred about it. It offers joy on so many levels that it can be addictive. During the pandemic, my husband and I began hiking regularly, and it wasn’t long before we were ready to tackle a month on the Pacific Crest Trail. Unfortunately, the reality of obligations set in and that hasn’t happened yet, but it’s still on our bucket list.

Ferranti is also the author of the regional best-seller 140 Great Hikes in and Near Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley (25th edition) and founder of the Coachella Valley Hiking Club. Hiking! was published in 1997, and it is interesting how his many references to everyday life apply just as well – if not better – to today’s world. The biggest difference, I believe, is how much more we need to embrace nature now than we did back then – especially our tech-dominated youngsters. In his preface written 25 years ago, he says, “I believe that we are about to see great changes in our society. One of the most important will be people’s turning away from media-entertainment-technology, an all-to-passive distraction, to those activities that offer a direct, honest, in-touch participation – involvements that facilitate real wellness rather than hyped promises.”

Little did he know that the iPhone would be introduced 10 years later and our obsession with technology would explode. It would take something much more drastic for us to seek “direct, honest, in-touch participation” along with the desire and need for real wellness; something like a global pandemic.

Hiking! is poetically written and offers captivating theories on how hiking positively affects us on a myriad of levels. “The act of walking through nature affects people in a holistic way: the complete human being receives some benefit. The body receives a vigorous workout; the will is challenged to reach beyond itself…; the individual’s sense of responsibility grows with the successful planning and execution of trip logistics; personal connections take place between hikers sharing their concerns, hopes and challenges; and the spirit is refreshed by the beauty of unpretentious nature.”

The authors encourage everyone who is capable to grab a friend or furry companion, or experience the magic of a solo adventure. Here are some of my favorite reasons why…

Overcoming fear

Hiking! introduces the concept that many people are afraid of spending time in nature, which I hadn’t really thought of before. Humankind began in nature and evolution brought us to cities and suburbs, but “to discover our true selves, we need to return to nature.” In speaking with thousands of hikers from all across the globe, Ferranti shares their general feeling of hiking and being in nature as a spiritual experience. “They felt cleansed, more alive, curious, optimistic and fun-loving while out in the natural world than where they came from.” Many compared a simple hike to taking a retreat, meditating or getting back to the basics. “The beauty of nature, peaceful and scenic, touched their hearts and souls.”

Reclaiming childhood 

Adventures in nature can make you feel young at heart.

I am grateful that camping and being in nature were important to my family growing up. The adventures my brother and I created as we freely explored are some of my best childhood memories. Today, hiking brings back those same feelings of adventure, exploration, wonder and joy. Hiking! considers the return to childhood for all ages – from the Silent Generation to Boomers to Gen-X –in an activity to be enjoyed at any age. Feelings of inclusion, mattering, bonding with other generations, accomplishment and gratitude for all life has to offer can make anyone feel young at heart once again.

Rediscovering a deeper reality 

Hiking offers a “time out” from our current reality. It allows us to let go of all we feel we should be doing, and to spend time with fresh thoughts inspired by the stillness of nature and our beautiful surroundings. 

“Hiking can be our entrée into the sanctuary of our own hearts and souls. In this out-in-nature solitude, we can begin to rediscover ourselves and the priorities that often become buried by the demands of life lived in reaction to culture. Solitude itself becomes a much needed respite, a “re-creational” experience that helps us build and care for our very souls.”

Enhancing relationships

Hiking provides a setting to enhance relationships, build intimacy and facilitate communication “while gaining a deeper sense of oneness with all humanity and all life on our planet.” All who have hiked with friends can attest to the strengthening of bonds.

In 2015, we wrote about the Working Women’s Hiking Club, a group of valley executives who for the past 13 years have faithfully gathered every Sunday morning to hike valley trails. The group is very close and celebrates life’s many ups and downs together, both on and off the trail. It is a unique bond you can only get outside of everyday life and in a neutral setting like nature. “We balance each other’s strengths and rally around each other when needed,” said health care executive Sandy Martin. 

Romance on the trail

Being in nature enhances your senses and your heart.

“There are times when nature stirs our hearts and makes us loving…It’s invigorating to the mind and spirit. Senses such as sight, smell and touch come alive. Mountains, flowers, trees, creeks, wildlife – all burst onto the scene with tremendous vitality. Your body is energized by inhaling the pure, clean, fresh air…You want to climb, romp around, hold hands. You are in the middle of an explosion of beauty and energy. And right there, through it all, walking next to you, is the one you love.” I couldn’t agree more. 

If you don’t hike and wish to, or always hike and want to gain a deeper understanding of why you love it so much, read Hiking! Then make plans for your next outdoor adventure. You’ll begin to feel the benefits from the very first thought through the pleasure of preparation, the love of lacing up your shoes and the pure joy of taking off on the trail. 

Lauren Del Sarto is founder and publisher of Desert Health and can be reached at [email protected]. Hiking!The Ultimate Prescription for Health and Wellness is available online. Philip Ferranti is available for guided hikes and lectures and can be reached at www.philipferranti.com.

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