Hitting the Trails

By: KELLY SHERIDAN

Walking is a great, low-energy way to burn calories and keep in shape. Those who use walking as a form of exercise are likely acquainted with the many benefits it provides. However, while strolling through the neighborhood or spending half an hour on the treadmill could easily contribute to a summer slim-down, you may find such activities become tedious over time. Why not make walking a bit more extreme, and a lot more interesting, by going hiking? Time to venture into the woods – a new form of exercise could be less than an hour away!

Like any form of cardiovascular activity, hiking provides many benefits. It improves cardio and muscular fitness, lowers the risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, increases bone density and slows bone loss, and is a great aid for weight maintenance. In addition to these, though, there are some benefits that could be said for hiking alone. Unlike regular walking on a flat sidewalk, hiking works every part of the body – legs, arms, hips, gluteus muscles, knees, ankles, and abdominals. Another great part about hiking is that it is great exercise for both beginners and experts. If the idea of walking around uneven, unfamiliar territory is intimidating, then there is a beginner trail that will make hiking easy. As the sport becomes more familiar, there are even more advanced – and difficult – trails to explore.

So how does a beginner prepare for a first hike? Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Find a nearby trail. At Trail Link, there are multiple trails listed per state. It also includes the length of each trail, and maps for most of them as well.

  • Know your limits. For someone who is in less than great shape, starting out with a ten-mile hike is not the best idea. Start out with short-distance hikes, and as stamina increases and muscles start to become accustomed to rough terrain, explore trails that are a bit longer.

  • Bring a buddy. Hiking alone is not necessarily a bad thing if you are in an area where there will be other people. However, venturing into the woods for a solo hike can be dangerous, especially for a beginner in an unfamiliar area.

  • Train frequently. As trails become more difficult, there are more obstacles and steeper hills. Training the leg muscles is crucial to conquering these hikes. Strengthening the core muscles is helpful as well.

Personally, I have a great deal of experience with hiking. I started hiking short trails of Harriman State Park, New York, at a young age with my parents, who are both extremely outdoorsy. As I grew up, my family explored many unique trails throughout the park. I love hiking because it’s great exercise, and allows me to spend time exploring the woods, which is an environment so different from the New Jersey suburbs where I live. For beginners, I definitely recommend starting out with shorter, less rough trails. I recently completed my most difficult hike to date, a total of 7 miles up and down a mountain. While some trails exist that are much longer, this one was hard because of the steep inclines and narrow paths. While it was a lot of fun, I definitely would not have been able to complete the hike if I was not in somewhat decent physical shape. A huge mistake I made during that hike was forgetting to bring water. For both experienced and inexperienced hikers, water is important. Drinking water along a hike will prevent dehydration and fatigue, as well as maintain a steady level of energy.

This time of year is a beautiful time to be outdoors. Though it may not seem like it, there are likely multiple trails within an hour of any major city. Grab your sneakers, water bottle, and hiking buddy, and get out and explore!

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Categories: Home, Sections, Your Fitness

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