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"Don't push yourself, and use common sense as you build up your endurance," Howland says.


You don't need a hiking trail per se to walk -- walking around your own neighborhood is just as effective from a fitness standpoint as going to a park, but if you would like to put a little distance between yourself and the sidewalks you see every day, the American Hiking Society (AHS) can provide you with free information to guide you to one of the country's more than 170,000 miles of trails. Log on to or call (800) 607-5509.


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?

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