A jaunt through the woods can boost your fitness, your balance and your mood.
Walking is great exercise, but sometimes you need a break from your usual neighborhood loop or the monotony of the basement treadmill.
Head out for a hike instead. It’s similar to walking but can give you a fitness boost along with a dose of novelty and adventure. And not only is hiking great exercise, it’s a COVID-safe activity that doesn’t require much equipment.
Navigating a winding, wooded trail can help your body build endurance, strength and coordination, says Dr. Edward Phillips, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.
Hiking over uneven terrain requires more energy than walking on a level surface, so it burns more calories. If you are hiking uphill, your body has to work even harder, he says. A rigorous hike may offer many of the same physical benefits as interval training, which alternates low- and high-intensity exercise to increase cardiovascular fitness. During a hike, your heart rate goes up as you move up an incline and drops when you head downhill.
Traversing an irregular landscape can also build strength.
“You are using different muscles when you climb and descend,” Phillips says.
If you haven’t gone for a hike lately, you’ll probably feel it in your hips and buttocks when you climb and in your thighs on the way down.
“Descending works the muscles in the fronts of your thighs, which need to function like a brake to keep you stable,” he says.
Finding your footing on a rutted trail can help you become steadier on your feet.
“When you challenge your body, it will adapt. For example, if the terrain puts your balance to the test, it will push your internal balance system to improve,” Phillips says.