Gyms and Fitness Clubs

Hiking for Fitness, Weight Loss, and Fun

Hiking is an excellent physical activity that almost anyone can partake in and provides many physical benefits to both the body and brain. The high level of physical fitness combined with the serene element of connecting with nature and getting fresh air is often what attracts individuals to hiking. People with demanding careers and those who work indoors especially benefit from the tranquility of hiking on weekends or even at the end of a long workday during daylight savings time. Even if you live in an urban area, there are typically parks and/or nature preserves within city limits that contain hiking trails, and perhaps more scenic hiking destinations within a few hour's drive for overnight hiking trips.

The Health Benefits of Hiking

Hiking is a low impact workout and therefore a healthy choice for those with joint pain or arthritis (however, your doctor is the only person who can say whether or not it's safe for you to start hiking). Regular hiking can also decrease bad cholesterol levels and raise the level of good cholesterol (also known as high-density lipoprotein) in the body, which prevents heart disease, and decreases hypertension. Hiking releases endorphins and adrenaline which are chemicals that affect both the body and brain and often aid in decreasing depression. In addition, hiking prevents those advancing in age from losing as much aerobic ability. Of course, all of this is in addition to the incredible calorie burning workout it provides along with the development of muscle tone in the mid and lower body.

Advice for the Beginner and Novice Hiker

If you're just beginning hiking, meet with your trainer and devise a workout plan that will condition your body and maximize your results. Hiking is an aerobic workout, with some anaerobic activity mixed in depending on the terrain you're hiking. To prepare the aerobic system, running, walking, and swimming (which is especially gentle on your joints) for 60 minutes starting at 3 times a week, and gradually increasing to 5 times a week must be done. Your trainer can determine what your target heart rate is and you should either use a treadmill which can monitor it as you're working out, or wear a waterproof heart rate monitor. Long and weight-bearing strides require strength in your legs and especially the glutes. Lunges and barbell squats are excellent for strengthening these muscles, and you can even add a workout for these muscles to your cardio exercise by using a stairclimber or elliptical machine.

Choosing a Type of Hiking to Suit Your Fitness Goals

There are several types of hiking, each with it's own niche to suit all kinds of hikers. Backpacking or trekking is a multi-day hiking trip on mountainous and challenging terrain. Because it is a more difficult variety of hiking which requires more endurance and fitness than most kinds, backpacking should be done by hikers who already have some experience and conditioning to properly navigate and prevent extreme fatigue or injury. It is typically done by a small group of hikers who hike by day, each carrying their own supplies in a large backpack weighing anywhere from 30 to 60lbs, and set up encampment in the evenings. A few advantages of backpacking are hikers are free to set a leisurely (given they have brought enough supplies) or vigorous pace as a group, experience more elements of being in nature such as sunrises and sunsets without the time constraints of a day hike, and higher physical benefits are reached due to prolonged duration and consistent pace with the added challenge of the pack weight, combined with ample rest. Ultralight backpacking is an offshoot of classic backpacking, with the only difference being that supplies are reduced or exchanged for lighter weight versions to make the pack 20lbs or less. Super-ultralight backpacking is by far the most extreme; the weight of the pack is trimmed down to a mere 5lbs (necessity dictates that these hiking trips be quite short, typically no more than a couple nights).

Hillwalking or fellwalking is an English style of hiking and refers to ascending and descending rolling hills and sometimes mountains via an easy route. Taking easy routes over terrain similar to the English countryside is a good choice for beginners who are trying to develop anaerobic fitness, or families with smaller children who are too small to endure a more challenging hike. Scrambling is similar to hillwalking, but with the addition of some rocky terrain requiring climbing upward using the hands and feet in a rock climbing fashion. Hiking in this fashion provides an aerobic workout as well as anaerobic due to the short periods of climbing which require muscular strength. Thru-hiking is the act of walking the entirity of a long distance trail from end to end, traditionally referring to the Appalachian trail. Days-long hiking trips are often taken to walk a trail end to end. Dog hiking refers to hiking with your dog alongside you, often with the dog wearing their own pack to carry their food and bowls. Waterfalling refers to hiking in which the scenic goal is to find waterfalls.