Take a hike!

Written by: Becky McGraw, CFW Health Fitness Program Manager

Scenic overlook - photo credit: Becky McGraw
Scenic overlook - photo credit: Becky McGraw

As people search for a way to disconnect for a day, many will flock to the nearest trails. Although a walk around your town is always a great idea, hiking through a natural environment provides the ability to disconnect and tune in to your senses. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to listen to a babbling brook or birds chirping, smell newly bloomed wildflowers or take in a breathtaking view. Hiking enables you to disconnect from the noise of everyday life and be completely in the moment.

Trails are open to all abilities since paths can range from flat, packed dirt to rugged, technical terrain with steep climbs. Nearly anyone, regardless of age or level of fitness can find a trail appropriate for their ability. Hiking boasts all the benefits that come from cardiovascular exercise: reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being a weight-bearing exercise, helps to prevent osteoporosis. If the trail you choose presents you with uneven terrain, you’ll also have the opportunity to engage your core muscles and work on balance.

Trail seekers will also find hiking is good for the mind. Studies have shown spending time in nature has restorative and stress-relieving powers. Heading away from technology and into the forest helps reduce the constant mental stimuli and bombardment of cognitive stress and helps increase attention span and creativity. Those who seek time with Mother Nature have also been shown to have a better memory than those who do not.

Into the trees - photo credit: Becky McGraw
Into the trees - photo credit: Becky McGraw

Ready to tackle the trails? Read through our tips below to help prepare you to hike the great outdoors.

1. Start small.

If you are new to hiking, find a route that matches your ability. Research the distance as well as the terrain so you are familiar with the task ahead.

2. Wear appropriate gear and footwear.

It’s never fun to deal with blisters during a hike. Focus on finding footwear that properly fits and works for you. Don’t forget to choose good socks to protect your feet as well. Be cognizant of the weather and dress appropriately. It’s often helpful to dress in layers and look for moisture-wicking materials.

Shoes overlook - photo credit: Becky McGraw
Shoes overlook - photo credit: Becky McGraw

3. Bring a map and a partner.

Even if you are familiar with a trail, having a map (whether hard copy or downloaded on your phone) is highly recommended. Bringing a family member or friend with you is always a great idea for company and safety reasons.

4. Stay hydrated.

No matter the season, always plan to take a sufficient amount of water on your hike. Plan on taking about 1 liter of water for every two hours you plan to hike. Look for handheld water bottles or hydration vests at your local sporting goods or outdoor gear store.

The best way to become skilled at hiking is to practice frequently. Try to plan one hike per week and increase the difficulty a little each time. In the end, your mind, body and soul will thank you for taking the time to unplug from the world and getting into nature.

If you are unfamiliar with trails in your area, visit the Hiking Project, American Trails and AllTrails to find trails near you.

Pictured is blog author and CFW fitness expert, Becky McGraw high above the clouds on a recent hike. Becky captured all of the photos in this piece on hiking excursions, which she takes as often as she can for fun physical activity and stress relief.

Becky hiking in the clouds - photo credit: Becky McGraw