7 Good Reasons to Try a Trail Workout


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  77 comments   :  47,643 Views

One thing I love about spring weather is the opportunity to spend more time outdoors. While I run and walk my dog outside in rain, snow and even ice, it sure is a lot more pleasant when the temperature is moderate, the sun is shining, the flowers and trees are blooming, and other people (not just the equally crazy runner you occasionally see at 6 a.m. in the winter) are out and about, too.

Perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy the spring weather and scenery is to hit the trails and take a hike. My dog loves heading to our nearby park with an elaborate trail system. She gets a chance of scenery, meets many other four-legged friends (cautiously and only when on-leash, I'll add!), and gives her nose a workout, too. I love the trails because they get me away from the traffic and pavement I normally exercise on, but also provide a great workout.

If you haven't taken up hiking (or trail running, another of my favorites) yet, here are seven good reasons to put on your trail shoes and get closer to nature this weekend.

Burn More Calories
Whenever you change up your workout routine, you will challenge your muscles in new ways and burn more calories. This is especially true if you're accustomed to walking or running on a treadmill or a paved surface. The changes in terrain of a trail will cause you to recruit more muscle fibers to balance and find your footing. Hopefully your trail will have a few inclines, too. And many are embedded with steps, bridges, stones, downed tree trunks, puddles, creeks—all sorts of obstacles you need to navigate, which means you'll burn 10% more calories than walking or running on a flat surface.

Protect Your Joints
One good thing about walking or running on a hard surface is that it can help encourage the development of strong bones. But for anyone with existing joint problems or previous joint injuries, all that pounding on a hard surface can really give your body a beating. That's why trails are a great alternative. Grass and dirt are far softer than cement and blacktop, making walking or running on a trail much easier on your joints. Personally, I try to trail run once a week during the warm months to take advantage of that softer surface and give my bones a break. But it should be noted that while the ground is softer, there are still some risks to trail running, specifically, in that the uneven terrain can be difficult to maintain your balance on. Start with walking or hiking and gradually move up to running to decrease your risk of falls or tripping.

Stay Cool
As the mercury rises, sometimes it is just too hot and sunny to work out comfortably when you're outside. Instead of letting the heat stop me, I hit the trail. It's noticeably cooler in the shady environment surrounded by towering trees that provide cover from the intense sun.

Breathe Easier
Even if you can't always see it, there is pollution all around us, and you breathe it in when you walk or run next to a road traveled by vehicles. Not cool. One study found that exercising too close to traffic can actually increase your risk of cardiovascular disease because of the inhalation of pollution. So whenever you can, get away from high-trafficked roads. The trail is perfect for that!

Beat Boredom
Tired of the same old route? The same houses and office buildings? Add a little excitement to your next walk or run by getting away from it all. There is so much beauty and interest in the natural world that you may find the minutes fly by as you look at the trees, animals, birds, and other plants along your trail. I almost never hike or trail run without also meeting new people on the path doing the same thing. It's a great change from my usual route.

Lift Your Spirits
These days, we have very few encounters with nature. Most of the time we spend outside of a building is in a car (or bus or train), and we tend to work indoors, and spend time in cities or suburbs that don't offer much in the way of the natural world. Trouble is, more research is showing that spending time in nature isn't just fun—it's essential for our well-being. Getting away from the hustle and bustle, basking in the sun, slowing down and smelling the roses: It can help us reduce stress, ward off depression, get our daily dose of vitamin D, and generally feel healthier. I must say, I feel different after running or walking on a trail versus doing the same activity on the paved streets of my neighborhood. Don't believe me? Try it yourself and see how you feel.

Bond with Your Buds (or Your Kids)
Going for a hike is a great way to hang out with your friends and do something active. I love hiking with my best friend. We even bring our dogs and her seven-year-old along while we get a workout and catch up with each other. Trail hiking is great for kids, too. They'll have a blast exploring the plants, insects and animals they see. I mentioned above that spending time in nature is good for our health, but it's important for the development of our children, too. It's a family-friendly activity you can add to your "fun" list that gets everyone active!

Have you hit the trails yet this spring for a walk, hike or run? If not, will you give it a try now that you know all the reasons it can be so good for you?

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  • 27
    I love to go walking at the nearby college arboretum. There is always something different to see or people to greet as I pass by. Need to remember to do this more frequently. - 6/2/2011   8:02:06 AM
  • 26
    I just returned from the Blueridge where I was able to hike two mountains. First, there was The Priest, a three mile hike. Secondly, Cole Mountain near Lexington, in Virginia.This is a one mile hike to the summit which has a view you will never forget. It is an easy hike and offers a 360 degree view of the Blueridge. You should try this one before any harder mountain hike. You will be inspired to do another! - 6/2/2011   7:55:41 AM
  • 25
    I'm blessed to live in the rolling hills of southern Germany, in a town bordered by wooded trails and unpaved roads used by the forestry service. I only have to walk five minutes to get to my usual (Nordic walking/running route). In the fall, I usually spend a few days in Switzerland - hiker's heaven. Thanks for a good article outlining some of the benefits! - 6/2/2011   4:39:38 AM
    The mountains are taunting me! We've had one of the wettest springs ever and the snow has been very slow in melting, so the trails which aren't buried tend to be rather muddy. I'm not afraid of a little mud, but it does get to be more work when you look like you're doing an impression of Frankenstein because your feet are so caked with mud! I've been waiting for the prescription ankle braces to come in before I do a "real" hike, because of problems with the ankles and wanting to prevent twists. But this time next week I'm going to be on a trail with some serious elevation to it. - 6/2/2011   3:05:05 AM
  • 23
    I have hiked most of my life. I live in Southern California in LA county, but on the boarder of SanBernardino County. We have many of trails and many of chalanging trails . I hike for pleasure and exercise. Lucky where I live I am at the foothills of mountains. One area that I hike is the Mt. Baldy area. The hiking is not for begginers and is classified strenous. I can go to the gym and do a hour and a half of cardio using elliptical, treadmill running hills, and the stair climber. But hiking does use alot of different muscles and you get challanged to make it to certain points. The next day you can feel sore. I went hiking with the Sierra club on a hike and it ended up being one of the toughest hikes. It was considered cross country and I did a lot of scrambling(using hands and feet) to get t up this mountain. Then when we got to the top we had to come back down this same mountain. My heart was even beating coming down the mointain. Everything was cramping up on this hike by the time I was done. The next day I felt it everywhere, but I was happy. - 6/2/2011   12:23:39 AM
  • 22
    Hitting the trails is great fun, really it's half the point of living out in the mountainous desert sometimes. I hit the trails a few times in the spring but it's getting to the point where it's so hot it can be dangerous in my area. Can't wait for fall for some more hiking! - 6/1/2011   11:54:59 PM
  • 21
    I discovered trail running this year when my husband and I were hiking and he suggested I try running the hills. Wow! What a difference in the feel (pleasantly!). Definitely better on the joints and I find I can actually run faster. My only comment that I feel you left out, Coach Nicole, is that some trails should be run with a partner. Be safe! - 6/1/2011   10:41:00 PM
  • 20
    My grandson loves walking in the woods as I can it. I will surprise him and go with him now that I am fitter from walking every day. - 6/1/2011   9:51:55 PM
  • 19
    I've actually been clearing a new Natural Trail at the KOA Camp Ground where I work. It's a lot of hard work, packing a chain saw and clearing trees and brush from the trail. You cross over rocks and streams and travel up and down hills with nature, turkey, dear, squirrel, rabbits, and yes a few black snakes. It's been very satifying work for me to know I am helping the visitors at our camp . I have plans to join 3 trails together that will circle the entire camp ground. It's also kept me in shape doing the work . - 6/1/2011   5:30:23 PM
  • 18
    Now that it is nice outside here in Denver there are a lot of great hiking locations. My husband and I just started last weekend. We want to go hiking instead of the gym on the weekends. We burned the same amount of calories that we would have at the gym and got to see a rattlesnake. Now how can you beat that? - 6/1/2011   5:09:10 PM
    My problem with these trails is that people take their dogs in there and let them off the leash. It's really quite scary when a massive dog starts running at you and there's nowhere to run! It'd be nice if more people used them for exercise and enjoying the scenery instead of a toilet for their dog. - 6/1/2011   4:52:03 PM
    We live about 10 minutes from a national park. This has encouraged me to get out there with the kids and hike instead of walking laps at the elementary school. - 6/1/2011   3:23:00 PM
  • 15
    We are lucky to have about 3/4 miles of trails cut through the woods on our property. So glad we don't have to exercise by walking on the highway anymore...the trails are much more enjoyable and safe. - 6/1/2011   3:20:28 PM
  • 14
    We have a rail trail here in town that is 5.5 miles long, and has been split into convenient "legs" for smaller walks or biking. I am enjoying exploring all the different parts this year! - 6/1/2011   2:48:53 PM
  • 13
    I LOVE hiking. Unfortunately, my only hiking buddy (that is to say my only friend willing to go hiking with me) moved to Colorado. :( I've done it a few times by myself but been yelled at about the safety of it *rolls eyes* I think it's time I hit the trails again :) - 6/1/2011   2:33:49 PM
  • 12
    no I will never do a trail run.

    1) deathly allergic to mosquitoes, and every summer my running partner tells me how she walks a trail and comes home with her HAIR completely full of mosquitoes.

    2) I'm a klutz, and I would certainly break bones on tree roots and rocks.

    The roads are plenty dangerous enough for me. - 6/1/2011   12:36:51 PM
    I love walking on the trail with my dog. It's so refreshing! - 6/1/2011   12:15:39 PM
  • 10
    I enjoy trail walking/hiking, I now take my puppy with me as well. My nieces and nephews like to go as well. - 6/1/2011   12:07:19 PM
  • 9
    I love the idea of trail running/hiking and have dabbled in it here and there...but here's the stupid confession I have to make about it: I am scared about the kind of wildlife I might run into!! I always have these nightmares about getting eaten alive by bugs or stepping on a snake or something. LOL. See, it's silly, right?! But other than the critter possibilities, being on a trail is wonderful and relaxing! - 6/1/2011   12:04:03 PM
  • 8
    Trail walking/hiking/running is my favorite form of exercise. Friends & family go to restaurants to visit with each other. I prefer to sail a trail with a friend with some homeade granola & H2O. Besides being way more fun, it helps you both stay healthy and live longer. What could be better than that? - 6/1/2011   11:10:12 AM
    Our family loves going for walks! We all have time to talk and bond! - 6/1/2011   10:59:54 AM
  • 6
    I love Letterboxing -- think of it as hiking with a purpose. It's free and a great way to find out about hiking trails, points of interest, etc. in your area or even when you're on vacation. The idea being that other letterboxers have hidden small boxes along various trails or even in plain sight (ie - under benches in parks). The box contains a signature stamp that you can use to stamp your own journal as proof that you've located it. A simple internet search can help you find several websites that house Letterboxing clues -- so you are able to print out clues for boxes all in a similar location.

    Once you find your first box -- you'll be hooked. It's also a great way to have your kids involved in a literal treasure hunt.

    Happy hunting! - 6/1/2011   9:49:44 AM
  • 5
    When I first started looking into running, I saw how much better for my joints running on chip, dirt and grass paths was. I've never looked back since. I *love* trail running; there's just this immense sense of freedom that's like a drug. - 6/1/2011   9:36:20 AM
  • 4
    I love to hike and I live right in the heart of the beautiful Adirondack mountains with trails literally out my back door... however, in the Spring, the bugs will carry you away!!! It's best to hike here in Summer/Fall! I am ready though! - 6/1/2011   9:30:52 AM
  • 3
    So true! As I read through this blog, I agreed with every point and realized how blessed I am to have many trails close to home and have a husband and dog who love to hike on them with me. We get out year round...on cross country skis or snowshoes in the winter and hiking the rest of the year. - 6/1/2011   8:53:32 AM
    I often run in a small wooded area near my house. It's nice to watch the progression of wildflowers over the spring. We've had such a wet spring this year, though, that the trails are super muddy. Some of the wood chips have been washed off and the footing is treacherous. I'm hoping it dries out some soon, because I've had to limit my runs in there as a result. - 6/1/2011   8:37:36 AM
  • 1
    I lOVE hiking the trails near my home. I am so lucky to have so many to choose from. The cooler air from being in the woods is so much nicer . I got so annoyed at the traffic on the streets and found I didn't want to walk as often. Now I can't wait to find new trails to challenge myself on. I got some walking poles and a new pedometer and off I go. - 6/1/2011   7:47:14 AM

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