If your workout involves a lot of staring at a television screen while walking on a belt, it may be time to shake up your cardio routine. This is not a call for ditching the gym – weightlifting is an important – even key – part of any workout regimen. However, there are many reasons for giving up that treadmill and heading outdoors to the trail.
You can begin hiking at any level…
Hiking is the consummate everyman’s sport. You can start easy and test the waters – on a flat, well graded surface with little elevation gain, and a short distance. Add more varied terrain, more elevation gain, and greater distance as your fitness level improves.
…and you can engage in the seriously badass
Think hiking is easy? Try Mount Whitney. Thousands of people come from all over the world to take on this hike, and although those who manage to summit are very, very fit, they are not necessarily elite athletes. This kind of hiking is within the realm of possibility for more average folks – with a lot of training. And when’s the last time someone gasped when you told them about your 2 hours on a treadmill?
It’s cheap to get going…
Have athletic shoes? Can hike! You don’t need special shoes, clothes, equipment or training to get started hiking. You don’t need a membership to the gym. Even joining a hiking group such as Early Rise Hikers is completely free.
…but you can get your adventure geek on too
As with any sport or adventure activity, there is plenty of great gear to support it. It’s easy to be drawn in, actually, to the purchase of a special pair of hiking boots that breathe, are waterproof, or supportive – and clothes designed for hikers abound to allow for ease of movement, sun protection, sweat wicking, temperature comfort, and durability. Of course there are also hiking poles (telescoping? carbon fiber? compass attached?); GPS phone apps or dedicated devices; hydration systems; daypacks; packs for multi-day backpacking; even mirrorless, low weight/bulk cameras aimed at the adventure photographer.
You’ll learn more about your local area than you would believe
I started really exploring the trails in my area after 8 years of living here. It amazes me now to think that I never really paid attention to the shapes of the nearby mountain ranges before then, that I hadn’t taken in the names and locations of the distant peaks we see on our hikes (and which I have now visited) and that I didn’t even know that we have the largest urban National Forest to the east of us, extending north and south as far as the eye can see from some local trails. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but based on my experience talking to people it seems I’m not the only one.
Vacations get very exciting
Yes, you can use the gym treadmill in any hotel. But why waste valuable vacation time staring at another television screen? You can seriously spice up your travel with a visit to the Calanque National Park in southern France, or by hut to hut hiking in Tirol, Austria or the Pyrenees in Spain, or a multi-day hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or on any of the many other amazing trails in the Peruvian Andes. Really, the opportunities are endless. Nature, culture, adventure, activity – what more could one ask for in a great vacation?
Experiencing nature has its own health benefits
Recent studies have shown that the experience of nature has special health benefits over and above the benefits of any exercise taken while outside. I’ve seen several articles indicating that experiencing nature can have positive physiological effects, and that some doctors are apparently prescribing a “dose of nature,” or “ecotherapy”, for patients with high blood pressure, post-cancer fatigue, depression, and even diabetes. Regardless of the extent to which these claims are true, being outside certainly makes the experience of exercise more tolerable – the exhilaration of a spectacular view can almost erase the pain of getting to the lookout point!
Moving your body in space is actually more challenging that running on a treadmill
Think about it. On a treadmill, the belt is doing half the work, and relieving some of your muscles of actually propelling you forward. And the treadmill is completely smooth, requiring no turning, sidestepping, long striding, work against slipping, boulder climbing or thinking. A trail’s terrain is like a game board creating the need for a variety of movements, and the challenge will grow with an increase in your speed and the roughness of the terrain.