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.
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.
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!
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!
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