Hiking was always my way of having fun – and accidentally exercising. These are the best types of exercise. You know, the ones where you don’t realize that you’re working out. I think that is what they call “play.”
Great Activity for Everyone
This activity can be as intense as you want or as easy as you want. It is a low-impact exercise, meaning it is good on the joints.
I have taken people of all ages and fitness levels on a hike and everyone had a good time.
There is no “let’s agree on the music” argument because there is no music. There is no question about the air conditioning or fan being on too high. You’re all in this together.
The goal is to get everyone from point A to point B safely, then back again.
Good for the Heart
Walking is an underrated exercise. Usually if you’re hiking, there is also quite a bit of elevation change so that you’re walking up and downhill.
No matter what age you are, walking is something you do every day. As we get older, we don’t get up and about as much. And that shouldn’t be.
Also, as kids get more addicted to TV, computers and games, they play less and walk less. And that shouldn’t be.
You Get Out of the House
Most of us lead lives indoors and, to be honest, that’s not how we evolved. This is an unnatural state of affairs that we are encountering here.
I think that there is something very normal about being in nature. And I’ll go ahead and label myself an extremist here by saying: I think there’s something very unusual about being inside a perfectly air-conditioned building for most of your life.
Putting yourself out in the elements makes your body adjust. If it is cold, your body works to warm itself up. If it is hot, your body works to cool itself down.
As you experience a range of temperature, wind speeds, precipitation and all sorts of terrain – and you’re able to do well in each – your tolerance of things becomes much greater. I’ve been hiking and gone to work the next day to see the receptionist complaining about how cold he is. It was 73 degrees and a perfect temperature. I bet the boy hadn’t ever been camping in his life.
No People Around
Now, I’m not against people. I’m a fitness trainer, I love people.
But sometimes we work around people constantly, and that cup is full. At that point, it is perfectly fine to spend some time alone or with a couple of others on a hike.
When you’re hiking, there isn’t drama. It isn’t a fashion show to see who can show off their new clothes (although the designer hiking gear is becoming ridiculous).
Usually it is just about getting from point A to point B. You are walking and talking with a friend.
I’ve had some of my best discussions with friends while we were hiking. You’ve got hours together, especially if it is a long route.
In general, whether you’re hiking alone or with a friend, it is a place to clear your head. I think that most of us don’t have mental issues, we just don’t have any places to go that are away from the noise.
Hikers Get Good at a Few Things
They tend to have very good endurance. Walking uphill uses the bulk of your muscle (your legs) and makes your heart work to pump oxygen-filled blood to those muscles.
The benefits for your heart cannot be understated here. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death. Please, even if you do end up dying from a heart disease, don’t let it be so early on in life. Hiking is the perfect method of training your heart so that you live a long, full life. Even if you just did that, you’d be better off than 80% of the population.
Hiking is also great for balance. Since you spend so much time on one leg, you’ve got to be able to balance. This is especially true since trails aren’t ever just straight and level. They turn and twist and have loose rocks, dirt and slippery pine needles.
When you start adding water and snow into the mix, you become a master at balance. And in my experience I have seen this to be a main cause of falls among elderly people. A fall may not sound like a major thing to your average person, but when a senior citizen falls, it can quickly turn into three broken ribs and a fracture on the wrist.
Agility. Most of the people I ask about this don’t know what it is so here’s a simple example. If you are carrying a box and can’t see your feet, then you stumble on a rock, how fast are you at repositioning your foot so that you don’t fall? That is agility.
It is a bit of speed with a bit of accuracy. The correct amount of effort delivered at the correct time.
Going back to senior citizens, if they don’t train this in, they are liable to fall. We all stumble, it is a matter of whether or not we catch ourselves before we fall. Agility keeps us from falling.
Affiliate Disclosure: We may earn a commission if you click a link on our site and make a purchase. For more info, see our disclaimer.
Let someone know you’re leaving, what route you’re taking and when you’ll be back. This is always a good practice. I’ve done a lot of hikes alone and if you have someone who knows the area, just shoot them a text and give them a heads up on what’s going on. If you don’t have a friend who knows the area, get in touch with a park ranger (if it is on a park) or just text a random friend.
Carry a phone or other SOS device. Most of the time cellular service is shoddy while hiking. Below is a Personal Locator Beacon that requires no subscription. I luckily didn’t have to ever use it myself, but it is a comfort to have on you in case something goes wrong:
Knowledge of local creatures and their deterrents. Depending on where you live, you’ll have various potential run-ins with creatures ranging from snakes, bears, mountain lions, wolves, skunks or elk. Some will stay away from you and others might get curious. You need to have some sort of a plan, whether it is bear spray, snake-bite resistant hiking pants or just plain old pepper spray to deter anything that comes at you.
Don’t go alone. I’m a total hypocrite in saying this, but I’ve had my fair share of close calls and I must have a very caring guardian angel, because so many times I could have easily kicked the bucket. I’ve sprinted uphill in loose pine needles being chased by a bear, slipped on rocks just above a 1,000 foot drop, and gone free climbing 50 feet off the deck just for fun. And I did it alone. And I was risking not only my life but my family would have been crushed.
Check the weather. Sometimes a storm comes in and you could have totally planned on it and packed the perfect gear. In my minimalist approach I usually only took what was needed. It was stupid. And I rarely checked to see what the weather was going to be. Where I was, it was usually dry and windy. No big variations. But if the weather turns wet and you, for some reason, get bogged down, you could quickly fall into a state of hypothermia. It’s a stupid way to die. Get some Frogg Toggs and basic hiking medical kit and other things you may need based on your area and you’ll be prepared.
Tools and gear. There are all sorts of tips and tricks on gear. If you’re going to be hiking in any regularity, you’ll want to work out your standard gear bag. A multi-tool, waterproof clothes, matches or a lighter, Personal Locator Beacon. I even had a few rounds of duct tape wrapped around my Nalgene water bottle. Why would you go hiking without duct tape? Don’t be stupid.
Plenty of water and snacks. My general rule on this is to bring enough for 24 hours. There are other opinions. You can read up on various thoughts and approaches based on how long your hike is and whether it is hot or cold or dry or wet – and how long it would take to find you.
This is a very basic rundown of what worked for me for years while I was near the mountains. I never really got into any trouble, luckily. But we should all know our limits and push them with full knowledge of consequences.
Take calculated risks, but don’t take stupid ones.
Hiking is a great activity in general. Kids love it, teens love it, adults love it and of the senior citizens that do it, they love it, too.
You can get your whole family involved and everyone is having fun, but also “accidentally” exercising in the process.
If you find those activities that you love doing but that also give you a great workout, then you’re set for life. For some, it is dancing. Others love playing racquetball and tennis.
I’ve never said that exercise has to be something you hate.