Hiking is a great way to stay fit while experiencing the great outdoors.
With the cold weather behind us, now’s a great time to take your exercise outdoors. Sure, you could exercise by walking around the neighborhood, but why not try kicking it up a notch with hiking?
There are about 58 million hikers in the U.S. alone. If you’re interested in learning how to join them on the trail, then look no further!
The benefits of hiking
Hiking is an excellent way to get in your cardio workout. Hikers can easily burn about 400 calories per hour, according to Project Untethered.
"Whether or not you are hiking with the intent of exercise, hiking is exercise,” Alissa Tucker, a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer, told Byrdie.com. “The intensity of your hike changes based on the grade of incline and the speed at which you walk.”
Hiking is, generally speaking, a low-impact aerobic exercise, which means it’s not only good for the heart and blood vessels but also easy on the joints and bones. And the positive aspects of hiking don’t stop there. Here are some other reasons why hiking is great for your mind and body.
Improves balance and flexibility
Thanks to the uneven terrain, regular hiking improves flexibility and balance, which is an especially important component of health in older adults. Maintaining your balance and flexibility helps to avoid falls and breaks.
Hiking builds muscle strength in the legs and core. And because of the inclines and uneven surface, there is even more resistance than with, say, walking. This helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Being outside in the fresh air has been shown to have a positive effect on your circadian rhythm. In other words, it helps your body know when to be energized and awake – and when to shut down and go to sleep.
Improves mental health
Finally, hiking and walking in nature has also been shown to improve mental health. One study out of Stanford showed that regularly walking in nature versus in an urban setting significantly reduced ruminating thoughts, which is a common symptom of anxiety and depression.
You don’t have to summit Mount Everest to get the benefits of hiking. A little goes a long way when it comes to trekking in the great outdoors.
How to get started
Interested in getting started? Here are several tips for beginning hikers looking to hit the trails for the first time.
Do your research beforehand. Check out guidebooks and websites, like this one from AllTrails, to find all sorts of hiking trails. You can usually search hiking websites by several factors, including location, difficulty, and terrain. Look for trails near you that are good for novices or categorized as “easy.” Have a clear understanding of the trail’s distance and terrain. And check the weather before you go.
Spend time planning what you’ll need to pack, and always have a map of the area on hand. (It’s best to have an updated copy of a trail map in paper form, along with maps you might use on your phone, in case you have no cell service on the trail.) Be sure to have some emergency essentials on hand, including a first-aid kit. Always have a light source and make sure your phone is fully charged.
Bring water and snacks
It’s imperative to stay hydrated while hiking. Be sure to have a filled water bottle and some easy on-the-go snacks, like trail mix, nuts, fruit, and granola bars, to stay hydrated and energized.
Go with a buddy
While there are certainly hikers out there who like solo jaunts, it’s always safer to go with a buddy, especially if you are a beginner. That way, there is always someone else around in the unlikely event of an emergency.
Let someone know where you’ll be
Whether you go hiking solo or with a partner, it’s always smart to tell someone who isn’t hiking with you where you will be. Give as many details as possible, including the trail head, start time, and expected duration of the trek.
Start slow and easy
If you’ve never hiked before, it’s best to take it slow and get acquainted. Start by going for walks on dirt or grass, rather than pavement. This will get you used to walking over surfaces that aren’t as smooth as sidewalks or roads. Once you get used to the uneven terrain and are looking for more of a challenge, find trails that offer varying terrain, along with inclines and descents.
You’ll need comfortable sneakers with proper traction or hiking boots. You’ll also need to wear good socks and loose breathable clothing. Since temperatures can fluctuate quite a lot if you are hiking a mountain or at a higher elevation, it’s best to wear layers that you can take off and pull back on as necessary.
Use hiking poles
These poles, much like ski poles, are helpful for people looking for more balance and stability while hiking.
While hiking requires a bit more planning than just a walk around the block, most people find it’s worth it!
How Medicare can help
If your brain says “Yes!” to hiking but your feet say “No way,” Medicare may be able to help. Original Medicare provides coverage for podiatry services for a number of medical conditions, such as diabetes-related nerve problems, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendinitis.
Medically necessary orthotics may also be covered as durable medical equipment under Medicare Part B. In addition, a Medicare Advantage plan may provide even broader coverage. To compare plans in your area, check out our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.
Project Untethered: Hiking Statistics
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