Get Ready to Hit the Trail

July 01, 2009

Fitness and exercise are beneficial to health

Discover how hiking can create a wealth of memories along the path to better health and get safety tips for hitting the trail.

A few years back, I found out how much fun it is to get out in the woods.

Finding Nature

Climbing on rocks, jumping over streams, and balancing on logs makes me feel like I'm a kid again. It's amazing what you can see and experience just a few paces from the trailhead. Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are great, but many of my best memories occurred just a few miles from home.

I've had a fawn, groundhog, and fox within arm's reach. I've walked under waterfalls, over natural bridges, and into caves. It's a fun, healthy, and inexpensive way to exercise and clear your head.

Know your physical abilities

Before considering a hike, you should evaluate your physical abilities and limitations. Many factors, like the weather, terrain and altitude, affect the physical challenge of your hike. Always give some thought to the worst-case scenarios.

You'll also need to take your endurance or strength into account. Hiking is a unique exercise, especially if you plan to carry a backpack. Give your body time to adjust to the specific strains of hiking.

Know your limits

Don't start off planning a hike that will have you climbing rock faces, crossing rivers, gathering food or anything else you don't know anything about. Learn the skills, then practice them.

It's also a good idea to keep your mental stability and strength in mind. How would you deal with an accident like a cut or sprained ankle? What happens if you get lost? Prepare for such incidents and know how you'd deal with them.

Hiking exercises

You may need to build up your physical abilities before your first hike. If you've never hiked, make sure to prepare your body, start slowly and prepare for the challenges. Because hiking uses specific muscle groups, you probably need to prepare even if you think you're in great shape.

Hiking up and down hills on varying terrains and in all kinds of conditions cause their own distinct kind of strain on your body.Choose a four- or five-mile route near your home with plenty of inclines. Since walking up and down inclines uses more energy than walking on level ground, you may have to begin at a pace that's slightly slower than your normal walking speed. Walk this route a few times a week for several weeks, until you can manage it comfortably at a moderate pace.

Before you go, make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots or all-terrain shoes. You'll probably also want to take some water and snacks. The links below will give you more ideas about what equipment you'll need.

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