If you’re suffering from cabin fever after winter and a chilly spring, take your fitness outdoors and take a hike! Hiking is a great workout with many health benefits, and not all of them physical. Studies show that spending time walking in natural areas can even help combat depression and provide a nice dose of Vitamin D on sunny days! Plus, hiking gives you a great chance to see the beautiful natural areas--even those in your own backyard. If that’s not enough to get you hiking, consider this: hiking can burn 500 calories or more per hour depending on your body weight, your current level of fitness, the heaviness of your pack and the intensity of your hike, making hiking a great way to lose weight. Studies have shown that just 45 minutes of vigorous exercise can rev up your metabolism and keep you burning calories long after you’ve kicked off your hiking boots. It’s also an excellent group or family activity, so take a look at our tips and then hit the trail!
1. Start smart
As with any exercise, take your current level of athletic ability in account before you start a new form of exercise. If you’re used to doing light physical activity, don’t plan a twelve-mile mountain hike for your first venture out onto the trails. Even if you’re accustomed to walking longer distances, consider the terrain you’ll be hiking.
Hilly paths can make even the fittest walker sore! If you’re hiking a loop, don’t be ashamed to turn back before hitting the midpoint and if you’re hiking a straight trail, remember that for as far as you hike, you’ll have to hike that far back!
2. Research trails
You may be surprised at the number of scenic and challenging trails right in your own area. Check with your county or state’s forest preserve district to find trails nearby, or check out trails by state. A lot of websites with trail information will include details about length, elevation and any points of interest along the trail. You may also find information about how many fellow hikers you’ll meet on the trail so you can better judge if you feel safe making the hiking alone or if you’d feel better with a buddy. Check out hiking and outdoors accounts on social media for trails near travel destinations, and pin, heart and like bucket list trails--trails you want to hike in your lifetime, even if they require a special trip.
3. Know the local conditions
Many websites will post information about trail closings, floodings and animal activity, so be sure to check out your trail before you go. Some questions you should ask yourself before hiking a trail: Are ticks common in your region? What about poison ivy, oak or sumac? Research whether the trail will be shaded well during the time you’ll be hiking or if you’ll need extra sun protection. Check the local weather to see if any recent rain will make for slippery trails.
4. Pack smart
For shorter hikes, you probably won’t have to bust out too much gear beyond the basics: sturdy yet comfortable hiking boots, a bottle of water, a few carbohydrate-rich snacks for energy, a camera to help capture the sights and a cellphone (for emergency calls only. We don’t recommend texting while hiking!).
For sunny days on open terrain, consider extra sunscreen and if you’ll be in deeply-wooded areas, pack insect repellant. For longer hikes, there are more factors to consider, so be sure to check out this packing guide to pack right for safe hiking. Remember that it never hurts to be over prepared, but that you’ll be carrying everything you decide to take along instead of stowing in the car.
So, where will your first hike take you? Follow our tips and get out in nature. Best of all, explore! There are a lot of breathtaking things to see on trails all around the world and all you have to do is start.
Sara Vallejo is a self-confessed happiness, health and self-development junkie from Chicago. She writes professionally in a business development and marketing capacity, and as a volunteer for a digital nonprofit. Miss Vallejo is a passionate mental and holistic health advocate who believes that good health is an ongoing journey best undertaken with supportive peers. Sara’s areas of expertise include nutrition, weight loss, women’s health, mental health and disability issues. She is returning to weight loss and fitness following orthopedic surgery and is excited to encourage and inspire fellow Azumio community members and readers to achieve the best health they can.
Main Photo Credit: Sergey Mironov/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Jacob Lund/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Halfpoint/shutterstock.com