Hiking: The Perfect Exercise Alternative to Walking and Running


It’s likely that you’re aware that including regular physical activity into your daily routine will reap valuable health benefits. Whether it’s via the media, government or workplace programs, or your personal physician, much information has been shared about the importance that staying fit has on our overall well-being.

Numerous studies have shown that the risk of health issues such as hypertension, heart disease, colon cancer and diabetes can all be reduced or controlled by physical activity, and the result is a longer, healthier, improved quality of life.

For most people the activity of walking helps achieve these desired results. Since walking is a low impact activity, there is less stress on the joints and less pounding on the body than there is with an activity such as running. Due to increased rates of obesity and a lack of physical activity in our country, walking offers a great entry level activity for those that want to begin a fitness program without the intensity that running demands.

However, walking might be too slow of an activity to keep the interest of many who want to find a sustainable activity. Perhaps you are in search of interesting places to go “off of the beaten path” or your workouts have progressed to the point that you are searching for a next level - short of beginning to run.

Running as a regular activity demands a considerable amount of dedication from the runner. The cardiovascular benefits of running are great as are other benefits, such as weight control, however there are risks as well. Research has shown that the greatest site for injury is the knee and that the risk of injury increases significantly in males and females that run more than 40 miles per week. For new runners, it’s important to consult your physician before starting to run if you suffer from joint pain, such as arthritis, or if you are overweight.

An activity which complements both walking and running is hiking. Whether you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail or the foothills in your town, hiking offers the low impact nature of walking while also offering the cardiovascular benefits that runners enjoy, such as a stronger heart and lungs. Hiking enables you to increase your fitness while charting a course on your own timetable. For beginners, keep your round trip distance to ten miles or less. Hiking is a great way to get your legs, feet, and body used to more strenuous activity. You get to pick your speed and the degree of difficulty for your hike. If you hike up a mountainside with a backpack at a fast pace, the cardio benefit is similar to a moderate running pace. As an aerobic activity like running, hiking can also improve your weight control. Hiking burns up about 250 calories an hour on average and people who lose weight through hiking generally maintain that loss and continue to lose additional weight.

The activity of hiking offers the chance to commune with all of the beautiful aspects of nature and provides a whole body workout. In addition to the physical benefits of hiking, such as lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower blood sugar levels, improved muscle strength, and sleep quality, hikers can also experience mental benefits as well. Hiking has been shown to create a sense of peace while curbing depression. It is believed that spending time outdoors also increases attention span and sparks creative problem solving. While some hikers prefer to go solo to clear their head or meditate away from the pressures of daily living, hiking provides the opportunity for social bonding as another mental benefit since most hiking is done with one or more hikers at a time, family or friends and perhaps a dog or two.

Here are some tips to keep in mind, courtesy of the Wilderness Society, before you set out to hike. Make sure to use proper footwear and a walking stick for maximum traction on uneven terrain and to keep your balance. Walking sticks will also help you to maneuver the trails and reduce stress on your back, knees, legs and feet. Pack food and water, a first aid kit with a whistle, sunscreen, pocket knife, and extra clothes and a headlamp, in case the weather turns cold or your hike lasts longer than you expected. If you are new to the trails, take a compass and map along with you and keep abreast of the weather forecast. Additional tips include: making sure that your cellphone is fully charged, taking along a camera and a book to read for times when you want to stop and relax. It’s advised that you pack light by keeping your backpack at a weight of thirty pounds or lighter.

So the next time you plan a physical fitness activity, consider hiking as a perfect alternative to walking or running.