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Hiking Your Way to Better Health

Take a Hike!



AHS is so gung-ho on the health benefits of hiking that the theme of this year's annual National Trails Day (June 1) is "Trails for Health."


"The theme underscores the health benefits of hiking and other outdoor recreational activities," said Mary Margaret Sloan, AHS president, in announcing the campaign.


"Spending time outside, whether I'm hiking or climbing, enables me to incorporate exercise into my life in a way I love," said "Trails for Health" spokesman Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind mountain climber to scale five of the world's seven tallest peaks, including Mt. Everest, and who is set to climb the last two later this year.


Besides Weihenmayer's visual challenges, he also suffers from seasonal allergies. If you do too, the thought of sniffing and sneezing your way along a woodland trail might not sound too appealing. Allergies, however, needn't keep you indoors, says Howland.


New developments in medications -- from once-a-day prescription nasal sprays to eye drops to antihistamines such as Allegra or Claritin, which don't cause drowsiness -- mean that most allergy sufferers can enjoy almost 1total relief from their symptoms with no side effects.


Howland advises those with allergies to stick to prescription medications and avoid over-the-counter allergy remedies which often cause drowsiness. "You don't want to be on a challenging trail and suddenly find you're sleepy," he says.


So, it looks like there's pretty much no reason at all for you not to walk out your front door ... and keep on going. "Hiking is an enjoyable, non-competitive, aerobic exercise that you can do in the city or the country, says Howland.


What's not to like about that?

Healthy Hiking

The American Hiking Society offers these tips for safe hiking:


  • Before you head out for your hike, make sure you look over a trail map and bring it with you. Take a compass with you and tell a friend what your planned route will be.
  • Know the appropriate pace or activity level for you, based on your health and fitness level.
  • Bring along plenty of food and water to keep your energy level up and to keep yourself well-hydrated. Apples, granola, or trail mix combine protein, carbohydrates, and a bit of fat to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Drink water before leaving on your hike and while you are walking -- even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Dress for the weather. Take along a waterproof jacket and hat in case of unexpected rain (or snow).
  • Make sure you have properly fitted hiking boots. Choose a shoe that has plenty of room for your toes and has a snug, comfortable heel. The shoe should have solid support and good cushioning. This is especially true if you're going to be hiking on uneven terrain.
  • Pack a first-aid kit, pocketknife, matches, and flashlight.
  • Protect your skin from sunburn with sun block. Use an SPF of 15 or higher.
  • UV-rated sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
  • If you do suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms, don't forget your prescription antihistamine. If you are allergic to insect stings, make sure you carry your emergency kit with you.
  • Wash your hair and clothes after spending time outdoors to get rid of the pollen you may have picked up outdoors.

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