There's nothing like getting away from it all. But vacations seem to come too far and few between. One way to escape the pressures and hectic pace of 'city' life is to head to the hills. Hiking as a form of fitness is surging in popularity and it isn't hard to see whyit's a great mind/body exercise. Not only can you get a challenging workout, taking a hike, alone or with a friend, is a wonderful way to forget your cares and spend a little time with mother nature.
The essentials of hiking are similar to walkingthey are simply taken off road. The best way to get started is to find a safe, cleared pathmany state parks have trails marked out with distances and the approximate time it takes to go from point A to point B. For added safety, take a friend or your dog along, and never go hiking after dark.
Another reason to stick to the trails: poison oak or ivy. Your best defense against these skin irritants is to stay clear of them. Don't trust yourself to identify these pesky plants; stick to the trail and avoid brushing against foliage whenever possible.
Shoes with good traction are an absolute must, particularly if you plan to head up or down any hills. Many manufacturers make shoes designed specifically for trail walking, although you can get by with a good pair of running or walking shoes. Hiking boots, particularly the lightweight variety, are great for keeping your feet drystreams and ponds often appear unexpectedly after a rainfall. The most important thing to consider when choosing a shoe is the fit; you don't want blisters or chaffing to keep you from enjoying yourself.
Keep Your Energy Up
It's always a good idea to bring along some water and even a snack when heading out, even for shorter hikes. Don't let yourself get so distracted by the beautiful sights around you that you forget to drink fluids and become dehydrated. Drink at least 4 ounces of water every 20 minutes or so, even when the weather is cold.
Dress in layers, particularly during unpredictable weather seasons such as spring and fall. Insect repellent and plenty of sunscreen also are essential. You may want to invest in a day pack that straps around your waist to keep these items close at hand.
How fast you take to the trails is up to you and what you want to accomplish. A hike can be an intense workout or a time to relax your mind and enjoy natureor boththe choice is yours.
If you want to increase the intensity of your workout, hills are a great way to do it. When starting out, take it easy and give your muscles, particularly your quadriceps (the front of the thigh) and your calves, time to adapt to the increased demands of hiking. Once you've been hiking regularly for a few weeks, give yourself a challenge by tackling a hill or two. Not only will this increase your muscular strength and endurance, you'll notice a big improvement in your cardiovascular endurance as well.
Ready, Set, Hike!
Hiking is a perfect activity to add to your existing fitness regimen. Not only can it add variety and spice up your routine, but integrating hiking into your workouts will also give you the benefits of cross-training. Rather than giving your muscles the same workout day after day, hiking will challenge your muscles to perform in a whole new way. But perhaps the greatest benefit of hiking is the chance to get away from it all, if only for just a short while.
This article has been supplied courtesy of the American Council on Exercise, one of FoodFit's Resource Associations.