Exercise or movement is something we know we need to do, but somehow get sidetracked with work, life and relationships. When the seasons change, I often think about how to get outdoors more. In the summer, taking a hike is a great way to add exercise that is both aerobic and weight bearing in an excursion that satisfies in so many ways.
Hiking takes you out of your usual routine, fills your lungs with fresh air, and lifts your spirits with the sights and sounds of nature. You might even forget that you’re giving your body a powerful workout that has many health benefits.
A trek on the trail is aerobic exercise that is good for the heart and lungs. Hiking is weight-bearing exercise that strengthens bones and joints to help prevent osteoporosis. Trails with varied terrain build strength in the hip and leg muscles. You’ll also strengthen your abdominal and back muscles, and improve balance and coordination. Hiking a few times a week, not just once a season, can help you maintain a healthy body weight.
Hiking is also good for the mind and spirit. Studies show that exercising in nature lifts symptoms of stress and anxiety better than exercising indoors. When you hike with family or friends, the social experience contributes to good vibes for you and them. So… invite a friend and take a hike!
Hiking Safety and Fitness-Boosting Tips
Pack right: Use a daypack that properly fits your torso so the extra weight you carry (snacks, water, maps, first aid) won’t cause discomfort. If you aren’t properly fitted for a pack, you could risk injury to the back and hips.
Know before you go: Most trail systems have online maps that indicate degree of difficulty and trail conditions. Familiarize yourself with the trail map. Its always possible for a GPS to lose its signal or battery strength, so carry a paper copy with you. Check the weather; dress and pack accordingly.
Buddy-up: A partner or group can help you navigate and assist if you get hurt.
Start slow: A short, local hike is best for beginners. Gradually work up to trails with hills, rugged terrain, or higher elevation. Find hikes in your area by researching parks, trails and hiking.
Use poles: Poles can propel you forward and engage upper body muscles to give a more vigorous workout or to add stability within uneven ground.
Know your limits: Keep tabs on your water and fatigue level. Stay on marked trails.
American Hiking Society. “A Step in the Right Direction: The Health Benefits of Hiking and Trails.” Accessed April 2015. http://atfiles.org/files/pdf/AHShealthben.pdf
Barton, J., and J. Pretty. “What Is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis.” Abstract. Environmental Science & Technology 44, no. 10 (May 15, 2010): 3947-3955. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es903183r
Gladwell, V.F., D.K. Brown, C. Wood, et al. “The Great Outdoors: How a Green Exercise Environment Can Benefit All.” Extreme Physiology and Medicine 2 (January 3, 2013). http://www.extremephysiolmed.com/content/pdf/2046-7648-2-3.pdf