We all know we should be exercising. We have all been told countless times that it is good for us to engage in a fitness routine; but perhaps the thought of running on a treadmill, like the proverbial hamster on a wheel, has all the appeal of watching paint dry. Or, maybe you feel you ARE that hamster on the wheel…morning after morning…watching the clock, waiting for your 30 minutes to finally be up so you can hop off and get on with your day. Well, allow me to inform you of how you can not only enhance your exercise regimen, but do it in a way that will stimulate your mind, strengthen your body and nourish your soul. It is time to take working out to the great outdoors.
Let’s talk about the benefits of exercise. You have been told it will help you burn calories and stay trim. This is true. I am sure that we have all seen the articles, headlines and news shows. Daily physical activity not only will help you maintain an ideal weight, it is vital to your health. Working out will help fend off heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and slow the aging process. Weight bearing exercises, such as walking, have been proven to help prevent osteoporosis. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help alleviate mild depression as well as antidepressants do. Exercise literally can extend and perhaps even save your life.
Hiking is an ideal exercise. The reasons are simple. It is fun, and it works. Based on research, a 150 pound person, walking at just 2 miles per hour, can burn 240 calories an hour. Add on a backpack and you are getting a terrific cardiovascular workout, while strengthening your muscles. These muscles are engaged much more than they would be while walking on a treadmill or street due to the uneven surface of trails. Add uphill climbs into the hike and you are really working those quads, glutes and abs. Hiking uphill is an incredible calorie blaster!
In addition to the physical benefits, you can also help keep your mind sharp with the addition of an activity such as birding or identifying plants and wildflowers. Studies have shown that engaging in intellectually stimulating activities can keep your brain functioning at a much sharper level. Why not try to engage your brain while you are at it? There is also an added bonus: the possibility of wildlife sightings, especially if you hike near dawn or dusk, which lends an air of excitement to your walk down the trail.
The final benefit of hiking is the sense of peace that nature brings. Connecting with the natural world is a way to retain your sanity, a way to forget, for a few hours, about the everyday stresses of life. Standing at the summit of a mountain, the edge of a wildflower filled meadow or the shoreline of a shimmering lake can fill you with a sense of awe and accomplishment. Not something you typically feel as you hop off the treadmill I bet!
It is simple to get started. As always, you should consult your physician before engaging in any new exercise program. You will need to find out what equipment is needed. Proper footwear and a backpack are essential, especially on longer or more rugged trails. Always have more water and food than you think you will need before you head out. Now, you just need to decide where to go!
The tri-state area is filled with state parks, preserves and national wildlife refuges. Long Island abounds with nature preserves and parks. The Catskill, Adirondack and Shawangunk Mountains are all within a day’s drive of Long Island. Numerous other nature preserves and parks are scattered throughout the metro New York area. It is just a matter of doing some research. Hiking can be as easy as a simple ramble through a small preserve near your home, or as strenuous as climbing the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. There are trails to be found for every fitness level.
If you are apprehensive about venturing out on your own, there are plenty of ways to participate with like minded people. Hiking clubs such as the Adirondack and Appalachian Mountain Clubs offer hikes for every fitness level. Environmental and conservation organizations, such as The National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy offer group hikes, along with birding and botany walks. Check online and see what these clubs and organizations have to offer. Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon offers a wide array of outdoor activities, ranging from bird walks to hikes to paddling trips (another fun calorie blaster). Many of you are probably not even aware of the abundance of resources and natural areas that are within a short driving distance, perhaps even in your own neighborhood.
Hiking is truly a full body experience as well as outstanding workout. Your fitness level, intellectual health and even your emotional health can all benefit from taking a walk in the woods.
The next time someone says to you, “Go take a hike!” take them up on it! It just might prolong and enhance your life.
The summit of Crane Mountain, the Adirondacks, NY