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How Hiking Is Good for Body and Mind

By Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Hiking outdoors has plenty of perks: nice views, fresh air, and the sounds and smells of nature.

It's good for you, too. Hiking is a powerful cardio workout that can:

  • Lower your risk of heart disease
  • Improve your blood pressure and 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."

 

Step Up Your Hiking Workout

You can get more out of your hiking with these fitness-boosting strategies.

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.

Head for the hills. Even a small hill will intensify your heart rate and burn extra calories. Miller says 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’s a good option.) According to Miller, 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 Tips

Bring a buddy. 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. As your skill level improves, you’ll feel more comfortable going solo.

Know before you go. Familiarize yourself with the trail map. Check the weather, and dress and pack accordingly. If storms are a possibility, rethink your plan. Follow marked paths and trails.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on September 15, 2013

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