We break down the many health benefits of mountain climbing with the help of Pinoy Mountaineer‘s Dr. Gideon Lasco.
Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time.
Anyone who has climbed a mountain, beginner or not, must have heard of that maxim. In the context of mountain climbing, no other saying can encapsulate the experience as much as the above quote can. Simply put, conquering mountains is one activity that’s best appreciated as is; nothing more, nothing less.
For whatever reason people have in mind—either to travel, to break away from the stressful urban life, or to explore and take breathtaking photos of the view from atop—mountaineering is also a good chance to finally take the first step towards healthy living.
In the advent of modernization, aided by the convenience of the Internet and other advanced technological endeavors, humanity has become sedentary creatures. Seated at the office desk for almost nine hours or glued to the study table all throughout the day, our body is prone to become less and less active. And mountaineering is precisely the opposite of inactivity, as it aims to provide a full-body fitness experience.
With his interest in mountaineering, along with his expertise in the medical field, Dr. Gideon Lasco is the most suitable person to prove the claim.
Dr. Lasco is a licensed physician, medical anthropologist, writer, and environmental advocate. He authors the award-winning blog, Pinoy Mountaineer, an online website which features reports, commentaries, and positions on issues involving the Philippine mountains and the outdoor community.
Mountaineering can mean different things to different people, according to Dr. Lasco. “For some, it is a hobby, while for others, it is a sport. But personally, mountaineering is more than those: it is a way of seeing and experiencing the world; it is a way of life,” he said.
Having climbed over 130 mountains in the country, and hiked in over 20 countries in five continents —including Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (highest in South Africa), and Mt. Elbrus in Russia (highest in Europe)— Dr. Lasco shares the health benefits one can get in mountaineering.
Leave nothing but unhealthiness
Dr. Lasco always wanted to climb mountains because he grew up in one: Mt. Makiling, “We used to play hide and seek, hunt for imagined treasure, and look for fighting spiders in the forests. Later on, my curiosity about the country and the world led me to pursue farther and farther peaks,” he shared.
As he journeyed to chase after his curiosity, Dr. Lasco realized that mountaineering sits at the juncture of various trends, one of which is the pursuit of healthy lifestyle.
In an article published in October 2013, Dr. Lasco said that people can cover so much distance just by walking, and walking is generally good for the health.
He added that mountaineering, hiking or trekking for some, is even better for it is not merely walking: “It activates other muscle groups, too, not just the lower limbs: the upper and lower back carries your pack; the shoulders assist in balance and help lift you when the trail becomes steeper. Some studies have demonstrated that hiking helps in the prevention of osteoporosis by strengthening the bones in your back. The more muscle groups are mobilized, the better the exercise.”
As an aerobic activity, it has been proven to effectively burn calories. It also improves the lungs, heart, and blood circulation.
Take nothing but wellness
Wellness is defined as the state of being in good health, as a result of conscious effort to live a healthy life. It goes beyond physical considerations, and is not only about being free from illnesses.
Mountaineering is an easy approach to achieve a holistic well-being. It is a medicine to the mind, a satisfaction to the spirit, and a challenge to the character.
“Hiking may be physically exhausting, but it is mentally relaxing, because it brings us back to nature, where our species used to belong,” Dr. Lasco said.
More than our physique, our outlook in life is also being molded. In the bigger picture, one has to start with the low mountains first, before aiming for the high ones. This teaches the value of discipline and humility, more so when we allow other people to take the lead in the seemingly endless trail.
“Actually, I’ve met a lot of hikers who started hiking because they wanted to start a new chapter in their lives. I think it helps because you get to see life in another perspective. When you are on the mountains—especially when you’re camping—you realize you don’t really need Facebook, the Internet, or even electricity to survive. You realize that there’s more to life than your small world. And it can help bring peace to one’s life,” Dr. Lasco explained, emphasizing the sense of wonder and connectedness that mountaineering fulfills.
Among the values that Dr. Lasco said he learned are the virtues of perseverance, patience, confidence, camaraderie, courage, and faith: all these are what he considers the courses to take at the “university of the mountains”. Presence of mind, he added, is also acquired, which is an asset in this increasingly uncertain world.
Even prior to actual hiking, during preparation, the development of holistic wellness is already observed. Dr. Lasco stated that physical preparation involves exercise and training, material preparation means bringing all the right gear, and mental preparation means studying the mountain beforehand to make sure that the climber knows what he is getting himself into. “Personally, I think the best preparation for a hike is another hike,” he added.
Kill nothing but stress
Scientific studies have shown how nature helps in relieving discomfort, anxiety, and pain. Through mountaineering, stress is alleviated. So when the environment is in good condition, people who find time to be one with Mother Earth can most likely be in their best form and shape, too.
Known for his efforts in advocating responsible outdoor recreation, Dr. Lasco believes that mountaineering is an effective way to practice environmental conservation.
The wilderness touches upon environmental and socio-cultural issues that most people in the cities, distracted by traffic and too much noise, tend to ignore. Mountaineering makes people reflect on the existence of such issues and immerse themselves in taking action to effect change.
“You cannot love what you do not know, and you cannot know what you have not seen or experienced. Hiking promotes appreciation, which leads to awareness, which in turn can lead to advocacy. This is why mountaineers are very sympathetic to environmental and social issues involving mountains and mountain communities,” Dr. Lasco explained.
Also, mountaineering involves much walking, which lessens the carbon footprints that people make. This clearly contributes not only to the human health, but also to the environment’s welfare.
Whether mountaineering is an escape or a pursuit, going to the mountains is like going home. One just has to walk the extra mile, for only those who are brave enough to go too far can determine how far they can go. After all, not all those who wander are lost.
Mountaineering is becoming a popular recreation that attracts more enthusiasts, even those not in the fitness community. In an almost meditative experience, mountaineering guarantees self-awareness and inner peace. Lord Byron put it aptly, “I love not man the less, but nature more.”
Featured image courtesy of Dr. Gideon Lasco