I love a challenge, exploring new surroundings, being outdoors and, of course you already know that I love to exercise! Hiking gives me all of those things in one simple free activity.
When I was a child, my mother took us on walks every weekend, we packed a lunch and spent the entire day outdoors, whatever the weather. She may have called it a walk but I now realize that it was hiking in the real sense of the word. Up and down hills, through streams, across rocks and up stairs – we encountered all kinds of fun obstacles in both the wilderness and the urban jungle. Her reason was to provide me with a free adventure, but she also gave me an opportunity to become a fit, healthy, balanced and co-ordinated individual.
I now carry on the family tradition and, at least once a week, I drag all my family including my dogs on a hike. We vary our destinations, return to old favorites and, now and then, we set off on foot from our own doorstep to see what‘s what in our local neighborhood. I try to keep it challenging, exciting and fun. Even if it’s raining, we venture outside.
There are so many reasons to hike!
If you want a new adventure, need to lose some weight or need a good free activity to do with family or friends – you should give hiking a try. The health benefits associated with hiking are vast. Check out my top five reasons to go hiking:
1. Improved cardiovascular function
Engaging in mild to moderate intensity exercise is linked to improvements in lung capacity and increased cardiac function.
2. Improved balance and co-ordination
The rugged and varied terrain of most hiking trails forces your body to stabilize itself, in time improving your balance and co-ordination.
3. Improved mental aptitude
Taking time out from your busy life and enjoying the outdoors can relieve stress, while the stimulus of enjoying nature – the sights, smells and textures – can make you feel more mentally alert.
4. Weight loss
Physical activity burns calories, slow and steady cardiovascular activity promotes fat burning. Hiking combined with a good nutritional balance can lead to significant weight and fat loss.
There is something about discovering new trails and being outside that is fun, taking time out of your busy day to connect with friends while doing an activity such as hiking can improve your mood.
Always the athlete…
You can leisurely hike and enjoy your surroundings, chat with a friend or day dream as you check out nature, but you know I have to give you the option of finding your inner hiking guru and stepping up your hike into a calorie blasting athletic adventure.
My top four tips for getting more out of your hike:
Pick up your pace and give trail running a try, it will increase the intensity of your hike. If you’re not ready for running, try alternating between power walking and jogging.
The steeper the hill, the harder your body has to work. Spend time finding a hike with a challenging gradient.
Training at a higher altitude has many health benefits and can improve your overall fitness level. It is, however, something you should build up to slowly.
Vary the type of trail surface you hike on, start out on mostly flat trails and build up to sandy or rocky surfaces. Walking on uneven terrain forces all of the small under-worked muscles and tendons in your feet and ankles to get strong.
Hiking can be full of adventure, fun, sweat and burned calories but, as with all activities, hiking is what you make it. You get to choose what’s right for you. My advice is to get on the trail, enjoy yourself and see how hiking can help you reach your own goals.
Written by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA. Samantha is Director of Fitness Education at Herbalife.