“Take a Hike!” is something my dad would say when I was getting under his skin, or I was in the way, or he wanted me to leave the room for some private conversation with mom. It was a kinder version of “get lost” and I knew exactly what he meant and followed his instructions.
For me, it was just getting outdoors, a walk around the tree-lined and well-manicured grounds that my dad was known for, around our house to be a version of hiking. There were no earbuds for music in my ears or podcasted stories to listen to way back then, but I sang songs, made up stories, and lived my own adventures of the wild around me.
I loved our garden complete with tall stalks of corn in neatly defined rows. I found the sounds of nature to be intriguing and the little creatures that lived on branches to be fascinating, especially “those pesky moles” that burrowed in our yard, driving my dad bonkers.
Every "take a hike" meant an outdoor excursion for me, because our house was small and well, there was literally nowhere else to hike. Little did my dad know that he was fueling my love for the health of the outdoors.
I do not call myself a hiker by any means, but my NordicTrack takes me on a hike many mornings or weekends complete with a tour guide for the area, a personal trainer, and an automatic adjustment for terrain changes and challenges! But you do not need equipment, and you do not need to take a hike, just get out of the office and get outside at least once a day. Breathe the fresh air, feel the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair, watch the wildlife, birds, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, walkers passing by, kids playing, or just simply look at your house and yard, take a deep breath and celebrate the fruits of your labor.
Hiking outdoors offers plenty of perks: nice views, fresh air, and the sounds and smells of nature – even better than my childhood backyard. It's good for you, too. I love to hike from time to time with a friend, and one of my loves is hiking up and down Stone Mountain, here in my home state of Georgia. The benefits are abundant!
Hiking is a powerful cardio workout that can:
- Lower your risk of heart disease
- Improve your blood pressure blood sugar levels
- Boost bone density, since walking is a weight-bearing exercise
- Build strength in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and the muscles in your hips and lower legs
- Strengthen your core
- Improve balance
- Help control your weight
- Boost your mood. "Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety,” says Gregory A. Miller, PhD, president of the American Hiking Society. "Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that."
You can get more out of your hiking by adding a few of these fitness-boosting strategies, but don’t overdo it and be safe. I couldn’t get too lost or hurt in my backyard, and my folks were there if I needed to get help!
Start slow. A short, local hike is best for beginners. Gradually work up to trails with hills or uneven terrain.
Use poles. Digging into the ground and propelling yourself forward pushes your upper body muscles to work harder and gives you a stronger cardio workout. (This is my next purchase)
Head for the hills. Even a small hill will intensify your heart rate and burn extra calories. A 5% to 10% incline equals a 30% to 40% increase in calorie burn.
Bump it up. Uneven terrain can work muscles while improving balance and stability.
Weigh yourself down. Stock your day pack with extra weight (water is a good option). A 10 to 15 pound day pack will boost your calorie burn by 10% to 15% while strengthening your lower back muscles.
Get into a groove. On the days you can’t make it to the trails, power-walk on a hilly terrain while carrying various degrees of weight in a backpack. It will keep your hiking skills and fitness level on track.
Safe Hiking For All Levels
Invite a friend. It’s best not to hike alone at first, especially on unfamiliar or remote trails. A partner or group can help you navigate and assist if you get hurt, plus it is just so much more fun!
Know before you go. Familiarize yourself with the trail map. Follow marked trails, and pay attention to and heed warning signs.
Check the weather. Dress and pack accordingly. If storms are a possibility, rethink your plan.
Thanks Dad, for sending me on some of my first “hikes.”
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– Stephanie Wolfe, NBC-HWC
Health Advisor | Email Stephanie