Hiking a fun, effective way to stay healthy

Courtesy of the World Wide Web, here are a few complaints reported to forest rangers in our national parks:

1. Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.

2. Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the area of these pests.

3. Chairlifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.

Last night after a weekend that involved golfing, motorcycle riding, and hanging at the beach, I was unwinding and catching up on the latest Facebook happenings. As I scrolled through my news feed, I saw some awesome photos of my column editor and her family from a hiking trip they took over the weekend. As I have never tackled hiking in this column, I figured that was my sign.

According to the latest statistics, nearly 42 million Americans take to the trails to hike every year. Fall hiking in the Carolinas has plenty of perks, including fresh air, beautiful scenery and the smells and sounds of good old Mother Nature. According to Gregory Miller, Ph.D. and president of The American Hiking Society, hiking can have a positive impact on stress and anxiety. He also goes on to say that being out in nature is ingrained in our DNA and many times people forget to get out there.

Hiking, like walking, has tremendous health benefits. It is a great cardio workout that can help lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, build bone density, increase strength and improve balance. Unlike garden-variety walking, hiking takes a little more equipment and planning but is well worth it to get your cardio in while enjoying our beautiful world. Here are some tips for starting as well as maintaining a hiking fitness program:

— Start slow: A short, local hike is best for beginners. Gradually work up to trails with hills or uneven terrain.

— Use poles: Digging into the ground and propelling yourself forward pushes your upper body muscles to work harder and gives you a stronger cardio workout.

— Head for the hills. Even a small hill will intensify your heart rate and burn extra calories.

— Beach hikes: Hiking along the shore is a great workout especially if you stay up in the higher sand.

— Bump it up. Uneven terrain can work muscles while improving balance and stability.

— Weigh yourself down. Stock your day pack with extra weight. Water is a good option. A 10- to 15-pound day pack will boost your calorie burn by 10 to 15 percent while strengthening your lower back muscles.

— Get into a groove. On the days you can’t make it to the trails, power-walk on a hilly terrain or on a treadmill on an incline while carrying various degrees of weight in a backpack — it will keep your hiking skills and fitness level on track.

For safety purposes it is best to hike with friends and look for parks and areas with designated and well-marked hiking trails. For more information on hiking the great outdoors, go online and search for hiking clubs in your local area.


Kathy Hansen

Contributing columnist

Kathy Hansen has more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field. She can be reached via e-mail at