"The nice thing about hiking is that it exists on a continuum, from a gentle walk on a flat wooded path to mountain climbing," says Dr. Baggish, associate director at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Nearly everyone, regardless of age or athletic ability, can find a hike that offers the right level of personal challenge. And hiking may even offer some unique physical and mental benefits.
More For The Core
Like brisk walking, hiking is a good way to improve your heart health, particularly if your route includes some hills, which will force your heart to work harder. Hiking on the slightly uneven surface of a trail also provides a natural way to engage the core muscles in your torso and to perfect your balancing skills. "You usually don't get that type of exercise from walking on a treadmill or riding a bike," says Dr. Baggish.
However, if you have problems with stability or vision, using walking or trekking poles can give you an added level of security on uneven terrain. Plant the pole or walking stick out in front of you as you walk to take a little pressure off your knee joints.
Natural Stress Relief?
Yet another advantage of hiking may be the restorative and stress-relieving powers of being outside in nature. A number of small studies hint that spending time in green space--nature preserves, woodlands, and even urban parks--may ease your stress levels. Giving the growing consensus that stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease risk, anything you can do to mitigate stress is likely helpful. In that realm, the benefits of hiking remain anecdotal, but outdoor enthusiasts tend to agree. "There's a real sense of peace and composure you get from being outside and away from everything," says Dr. Baggish, who own passion is not hiking, but running on trails.
Here are his tips for a safe and enjoyable hiking experience:
Bring a map and hike with a partner. A companion is good for both company and safety. If you go alone, let someone know when you plan to return.
Wear hiking boots. Choose well-fitting footwear with good ankle support. Make sure to break them in with shorter walks so you don't get blisters when you're miles from a trail-head.
Stay hydrated. Don't forget to take plenty of water along, especially in warm, sunny weather.
Finding Trails Near You
Not sure of where to hike? Local, state, and national parks are a good place to start. American Trails is a national nonprofit organization and is a useful resource.
In Roanoke, VA, the some of the easiest to access trails are off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Click HERE to check out a trail.
For more spontaneous hiking trips, try out on of Roanoke's Greeways, or the Explorer Park which features mapped, easy trails.
Read the original article HERE from Harvard Health Publications.