A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Get the Most Out of Your Hike

Posted May 22, 2018

Looking to get fit while enjoying the great outdoors? Hiking, trail walking and trail running are excellent cardiovascular and muscle-building workouts—with some added bonuses. Hitting the trails not only improves fitness levels and burn calories, but provides other benefits for your body, mind and emotional wellbeing.

Hiking offers the same fat-burning intensity of interval training, coupled with interesting scenery and varied terrain. The different surfaces and inclines you’ll encounter on a trail help you improve balance. Softer surfaces underfoot also alleviate some of the stress your body endures when walking or running on harder surfaces.

Not only will your body benefit from hiking, but getting away from the sights, sounds and demands of the day and replacing them with the beauty of nature can wash away stress and help you relax. A 2015 study at Stanford University showed that walking in nature decreased worry, anxiety and other negative thoughts among participants.

Here’s how to get the most out of your hike:

  • Choose your path. Select trails that are appropriate for your fitness level. Explore different surfaces and locations — flat, hilly, dirt, grass, etc. — for a varied workout. Start with flat surfaces that are not rocky or riddled with roots until you feel comfortable.
  • Pick up the pace. Over time, walk or run at a more intense pace for a challenging cardiovascular workout. Or wear a weighted vest or backpack. Just be sure to  increase speed gradually so you don’t overdo it.
  • Take a break. It’s important to listen to your body to avoid injuries. If you start to feel pain, slow down or take a break until you feel better.
  • Refuel and hydrate. Bring along healthy snacks and enough water to get you through your hike. You don’t want to be left out in the woods running on empty.
  • Plan ahead. Check websites such as trails.com to determine the type of terrain trails near you offer. If you plan to hike alone, scout out the trail in advance to make sure you feel safe. You should also let others know where you’re headed.

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