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7 Good Reasons to Try a Trail Workout

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
6/11/2013 6:00 AM   :  71 comments   :  26,849 Views

One thing I love about spring weather is the opportunity to spend more time outdoors. While I run and walk my dog outside in rain, snow and even ice, it sure is a lot more pleasant when the temperature is moderate, the sun is shining, the flowers and trees are blooming, and other people (not just the equally crazy runner you occasionally see at 6 a.m. in the winter) are out and about, too.

Perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy the spring weather and scenery is to hit the trails and take a hike. My dog loves heading to our nearby park with an elaborate trail system. She gets a chance of scenery, meets many other four-legged friends (cautiously and only when on-leash, I'll add!), and gives her nose a workout, too. I love the trails because they get me away from the traffic and pavement I normally exercise on, but also provide a great workout.

If you haven't taken up hiking (or trail running, another of my favorites) yet, here are seven good reasons to put on your trail shoes and get closer to nature this weekend.

Burn More Calories
Whenever you change up your workout routine, you will challenge your muscles in new ways and burn more calories. This is especially true if you're accustomed to walking or running on a treadmill or a paved surface. The changes in terrain of a trail will cause you to recruit more muscle fibers to balance and find your footing. Hopefully your trail will have a few inclines, too. And many are embedded with steps, bridges, stones, downed tree trunks, puddles, creeks—all sorts of obstacles you need to navigate, which means you'll burn 10% more calories than walking or running on a flat surface.

Protect Your Joints
One good thing about walking or running on a hard surface is that it can help encourage the development of strong bones. But for anyone with existing joint problems or previous joint injuries, all that pounding on a hard surface can really give your body a beating. That's why trails are a great alternative. Grass and dirt are far softer than cement and blacktop, making walking or running on a trail much easier on your joints. Personally, I try to trail run once a week during the warm months to take advantage of that softer surface and give my bones a break. But it should be noted that while the ground is softer, there are still some risks to trail running, specifically, in that the uneven terrain can be difficult to maintain your balance on. Start with walking or hiking and gradually move up to running to decrease your risk of falls or tripping.

Stay Cool
As the mercury rises, sometimes it is just too hot and sunny to work out comfortably when you're outside. Instead of letting the heat stop me, I hit the trail. It's noticeably cooler in the shady environment surrounded by towering trees that provide cover from the intense sun.

Breathe Easier
Even if you can't always see it, there is pollution all around us, and you breathe it in when you walk or run next to a road traveled by vehicles. Not cool. One study found that exercising too close to traffic can actually increase your risk of cardiovascular disease because of the inhalation of pollution. So whenever you can, get away from high-trafficked roads. The trail is perfect for that!

Beat Boredom
Tired of the same old route? The same houses and office buildings? Add a little excitement to your next walk or run by getting away from it all. There is so much beauty and interest in the natural world that you may find the minutes fly by as you look at the trees, animals, birds, and other plants along your trail. I almost never hike or trail run without also meeting new people on the path doing the same thing. It's a great change from my usual route.

Lift Your Spirits
These days, we have very few encounters with nature. Most of the time we spend outside of a building is in a car (or bus or train), and we tend to work indoors, and spend time in cities or suburbs that don't offer much in the way of the natural world. Trouble is, more research is showing that spending time in nature isn't just fun—it's essential for our well-being. Getting away from the hustle and bustle, basking in the sun, slowing down and smelling the roses: It can help us reduce stress, ward off depression, get our daily dose of vitamin D, and generally feel healthier. I must say, I feel different after running or walking on a trail versus doing the same activity on the paved streets of my neighborhood. Don't believe me? Try it yourself and see how you feel.

Bond with Your Buds (or Your Kids)
Going for a hike is a great way to hang out with your friends and do something active. I love hiking with my best friend. We even bring our dogs and her seven-year-old along while we get a workout and catch up with each other. Trail hiking is great for kids, too. They'll have a blast exploring the plants, insects and animals they see. I mentioned above that spending time in nature is good for our health, but it's important for the development of our children, too. It's a family-friendly activity you can add to your "fun" list that gets everyone active!

Have you hit the trails yet this spring for a walk, hike or run? If not, will you give it a try now that you know all the reasons it can be so good for you?

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Comments

  • 71
    My hubby and I walked a portion of the Appalachian Trail for 6 weeks this past Spring. The funny part about the hike is that I got most of my blisters walking on hard pavement in town! Except for the first week, I never got them on the trail! I look forward to more weekend hiking trips this fall and returning to the A.T. next Spring for another attempt! - 8/26/2013   8:36:29 PM
  • TBMVDEBONIS
    70
    This summer I took each of my children on their first hike of a "14er". It was so hard but so amazing to be with them as they checked this amazing feat off of their "bucket list". They are 13 and 16. We got hours of uninterrupted time to just talk. It was amazing!! - 8/26/2013   6:15:46 PM
  • 69
    I do "mini" hikes with my dogs in the neighborhood a couple times a day - 8/26/2013   5:03:09 PM
  • 68
    Even in suburban Chicago there are trails one can hike on! Our local Izzak Walton Preserve has lots of trails, and as a member, I walk them frequently with my dog, and also bike them! It is great fun for my dog (who stays on-leash because he will run after squirrels and get lost) and good for my health! We love trails!! - 8/26/2013   2:36:05 PM
  • 67
    I live on 5 acres and have set up a walking trail around the inside perimeter fence line. This article has triggered ideas of how I can make it more of a 'hike' by adding routes with varying terrain.

    Oh, and I can forget taking my dog (as I did this morning) . . . he's a little Yorkie and I seem to spend more time digging burrs out of him afterwards. - 8/26/2013   2:07:49 PM
  • BEGBERT
    66
    Hiking in our CO mountains is my favorite thing to do outside. That is part of my motivation for weight loss and fitness. I live on the side of a 10,000 ft mountain and want to be able to get around on my own two legs in the woods
    At my age its not always easy but it is my goal. - 8/26/2013   12:18:53 PM
  • 65
    Hiking sounds like tons of fun. I love nature and fortunately the park I used to walk was full of nature scenes. I plan to start walking the walk path in the park again, now that I have returned to SP. Nature has such a calming and relaxing effect. - 8/18/2013   1:00:20 PM
  • GRACILU
    64
    Now I want to check out my local parks and trails. Thanks! - 8/3/2013   2:53:33 PM
  • 63
    I spend as much time as possible in the mountains in NH with my family. It's our favorite family activity. One year when my niece was 2 she received a little turtle backpack for Christmas and immediately she put it on and came to me. "Auntie, walk, walk, walk!" She now easily does 6-7 miles a day in the rough backcountry. If you have the time and are prepared its so worth the effort to get out and take a hike. You never know what beautiful or interesting thing might be around the corner. - 7/14/2013   7:07:29 AM
  • 62
    I definitely feel more in-tune when I spend time in the woods, maybe this weekend I'll take off into the wilds. - 6/12/2013   10:32:35 PM
  • 61
    I'm lucky, I live in an area where pretty much everyday is a hike. I have to walk a few blocks (downhill) to get to the trail but I'll follow that the mile or so down, then onto the beach to head home so I have an aray of surfaces to walk on. then (ugh) it's all uphill to get home. - 6/12/2013   4:39:35 PM
  • 60
    I just discovered hiking this spring and I absolutely love it. I try to get out at least once a week. It is perfect for me; because I am allergic to the sun I don't get out much, but hiking in the woods shields me from the sun's damaging rays. Even though I am relatively new at athletic activities, hiking is accessible to just about anyone. I started with just one mile and now I am up to six! And it's so wonderful to get out of my own head and into the world, into nature. - 6/12/2013   3:56:06 PM
  • 59
    My husband and I love to hike and we wish that we could do it more. - 6/12/2013   8:48:47 AM
  • JANETEMILY
    58
    I am lucky to have a gravel trail through the woods right in my development! It runs next to a creek, and is covered in trees. My dog loves it, but it takes longer because she has to sniff every few feet and wants to chase every squirrel and chipmunk. - 6/12/2013   8:20:59 AM
  • 57
    hiking just isn't my thing...im afraid of everything that I may encounter while hiking! - 6/11/2013   5:57:38 PM
  • 56
    I love hiking and I wish I could do it more. It's hard to get anyone to go with me and I don't want to go into the woods alonel - 6/11/2013   3:48:05 PM
  • DELLMEL
    55
    No thank you. Don't like hiking. - 6/11/2013   2:37:23 PM
  • 54
    Hiking is absolutely my favorite form of exercise and I do it frequently, every chance I get. I'm lucky enough to live right outside a forest boundary so the trails are almost endless around here! It calms my soul so much too as well as helps my body. - 6/11/2013   11:17:04 AM
  • 53
    The only concern that I have with hiking out in the middle of nowhere (I watch the ID channel) is possible people with evil intent lurking out in the woods. So I would say everyone be careful. - 6/11/2013   11:04:09 AM
  • 52
    I have done trail hiking for years. My son who is 15 has gone on many hikes with me and our dogs, it is great, nice article. - 6/11/2013   10:47:38 AM
  • 51
    Walking the trails in the Spring and Fall are the best times - every time you hit the trail you see something different. In the Spring the trees are in bud, the ferns are coming up out of the ground and you just see different things as the scenery changes. The same with Fall when the leaves start to change color. Every day on the trail can be a totally different adventure with new things to notice. Just be sure to wear bug spray and check for ticks at the end of your walk. - 6/11/2013   9:48:00 AM
  • 50
    Thanks for the reminder. I do love walking with my dog outdoors in the woods. It has been a couple of YEARS! - 6/11/2013   9:36:10 AM
  • 49
    Hiking is something that both my husband and I love to do. There is always so much to see and look at that you don't really notice all the hills you climb or the steps you take. However, thanks to my trusty Fit-bit, I find at the end of the day that I've taken more steps than ever and even made my 50 flights of stairs in one day. - 6/11/2013   8:46:51 AM
  • 48
    I haven't hit the trails yet this spring for a hike, but I would love to! My husband and I did quite a bit of hiking last year. It felt good to see the scenery. I could walk for hours without getting tired simply because my mind was so stimulated. - 6/11/2013   8:08:05 AM
  • 64CHEVYGIRL
    47
    My husband has been taking me on hikes on the weekends. I carry a backpack with water, snacks, bug spray etc., and we walk on old log roads and through the woods where he goes hunting. It's peaceful, nobody else in sight, we see animals/birds, and I can tell the different terrain is working different muscles. I love it! - 6/11/2013   6:33:50 AM
  • 46
    Love love LOVE hiking! Aiming to do a hike a week this summer. Just did one yesterday in fact (Sugarloaf on Fidalgo Island...short but STEEP!). - 6/11/2013   6:30:45 AM
  • 45
    I am lucky enough to have a lot of green belt near my home, with trails all through it. Some are paved and some are not, but there's lots of trees, and creeks. I take my walk through it several times a week. Just beautiful. - 6/6/2011   10:48:49 AM
  • 44
    South central PA here, I must do more hiking! - 6/5/2011   9:43:20 PM
  • ASIRUAM
    43
    I read the comment from RUNESHADOW and just wanted to add some advice. I own a dog and love to hike; and realize the concern from both sides of the fence. I like to walk my dog in my neighborhood and there are sooooooo many dogs off of a leash. The stray dogs like to come up to my dog and "make friends". Well, my dog is not a fan of this. So, this is difficult to walk her. Even on the street, there are many people who do not enjoy the company of dogs (not to mention unfamiliar dogs). I do the responsible thing by either walking clear out of others paths or stopping with my dog and making sure others feel comfortable and let them pass. My recommendation while hiking is to stop when you see an oncoming dog. Yes, it is possibly unfair to you to have to stop for a moment. However, if someone stops and moves to the side up ahead of me while walking my dog, I know they might feel uneasy. This promps me to take extra care. Unfortunately, there are people who do not leash their dogs. (I have friends who do this and I have tried to talk sense into them with no luck!) So many people like to say how friendly their dog is and its not a problem. There is a problem. Not all dogs are friendly. So, it scares people. I like to mention this. I'm never rude, I just mention that the dog startled me when I didn't see a leash. In the end, dogs need excersize too. I know my dog does! I'm thankful that my dog helps me get off my lazy butt and go hiking. Share the trail! Demand responsible dog owners... it's your right! - 6/5/2011   4:32:27 PM
  • 42
    I'm with RuneShadow 100%. I have vertigo and I live in the middle of the forest with extremely rocky terrain. I can walk out into my front yard and be in the middle of nature. I've never been so grateful for anything as for the treadmill we bought last fall. I can exercise now as much as I want without the fear of getting injured. - 6/5/2011   4:20:13 PM
  • 41
    Well, hve done my part!!! Hiked over 6.5 miles on Mt. Lemmon yesterday. GREAT HIKE, felt wonderful, and was so peaceful. Actually saw water on the trail, though a trickle now, still was running, and muddy. Top of the Mt. was FREEZING with a very cold wind blowing. But down the Mt. on the trail, it was perfect weather, without a need for a coat! - 6/3/2011   3:10:45 PM
  • 40
    Love hiking... it's taking walking to the next level in so many ways. Please keep the reminders and tips coming! - 6/3/2011   11:36:27 AM
  • 39
    So glad to see that there are so many other hikers! I live for hiking, it is my life's ambition to do nothing but hike. (Too bad I have bills to pay;)
    I love the challenge of the hills and the view at the top. I love the listening to the birds and the creeks and the wind blowing in the trees tops. I love the smell of the springtime flowers or the wet moist leaves and the pine trees. I love the sight of a mama turkey with her polts, sooo cute right now. I love the peace of mind and relaxation that the trail brings. Yes it is sometimes hard work, but THAT is the release.
    Did I say that I love hiking! - 6/3/2011   5:36:58 AM
  • RUNESHADOW
    38
    I don't like sharing hiking and multipurpose trails with dogs, leashed or otherwise. I walk with a cane and am vulnerable to their romping. I say Thank you every time a person controls the dog and keeps it well away from me. I just wish they could be banned from trails unless it is in a remote area unlikely to be shared by other hikers-walkers.

    And maybe it's just me, but I have a horrible time on uneven ground. I need pavement (or otherwise stable surfaces such as wooden bridges or boardwalks) for stable footing. I have problems with my knee, hip and lower back, and it is challenging when I simply cut across a lawn or take my grandchildren to a park and leave the paved paths. Walking on natural ground may be healthier but the added instability and eventual pain make me limit my off-pavement walking. I do like the challenge of modest inclines and since many folks have trees close to sidewalks in my neighborhood, I am often adjusting to sidewalk sections tilted by roots! I got in a brisk 30 minutes today, walking a section of downtown I hadn't been in years, and the varying slopes were pretty cool. I don't want to risk further injury by attempting naked ground even for a 30-minute hike. My suggestion is to know what you need for stability. It's admirable to challenge yourself, but use good judgment. - 6/2/2011   6:19:17 PM
  • WILLIAMJ248
    37
    I have been leading hikes for the last 10 years and have seen a lot of common mistakes that people make. The biggest mistake I see is lack of water. Always carrier more then you think you can use. In summer it's hot, an a small open field will have you drinking your water until it's gone. Next biggest mistake is taken on too much. Please don't do a long hike until you have done a couple 1, 2 or 3 mile hikes. While some people wear ear buds or headset, I normally ask them not to do this, as it isolates your hearing from what is going on in the area and if you leave/get off the normal trail, it's hard to find your way back. Finally, a simple first aid kit, just for cuts and small injuries, and maybe some bug repellant. - 6/2/2011   3:17:02 PM
  • 36
    I love the trails. I walk and run the 8 km trail every day with my four dogs. I go year round, snow, rain, wind included which creates an even greater challenge. I listen to audio books while I walk/run which makes the time go by with ease. I love watching my four dogs off leash exploring all the bushes and trees. It truly is the highlight of my day. I encourage everyone to try the trails, you won't be disappointed. - 6/2/2011   1:00:54 PM
  • 35
    Perfect timing once again, Coach Nicole! I was concerned that trails would be easier than my usual road walking routes. The branches and uneven surface slow me down. Nice to know trails provide a good workout BECAUSE of the terrain obstacles. A friend introduced me to trails last summer and I've been waiting for the mud to dry before visiting them this year. A severe lightning storm stopped me yesterday morning from going on a free guided hike with a state forest ranger --- it's offered weekly so hoping for good weather next Wednesday morning. - 6/2/2011   11:52:33 AM
  • 34
    I AM NOT REALLY INTO HIKING, BUT I DO ENJOY WALKING WITH THE GRANDKIDS AND GOING TO A "VILLAGE" NEAR US AND WALK. I HAVE ALLERGIES SO SOMETIMES GOING TO A MUSEUM WORKS FOR ME. - 6/2/2011   11:41:39 AM
  • 33
    I love hiking..I cannot do it anymore due to severe arthritis, but maybe once I have some replacements. I love to be in the great outdoors. we have to worry though, about meeting up with a bear, here. - 6/2/2011   11:16:45 AM
  • SANDYPERM
    32
    I will definitely try and find a hiking trail in my area. This sounds like a great way to exercise.
    - 6/2/2011   10:50:28 AM
  • 31
    My husband and I make it a point to do several trail hikes per summer, and we are always using the rail trails to bike near our home. It's a fun change from the winter workout! - 6/2/2011   10:36:58 AM
  • 30
    I can't wait until I go to my Mom's to hit the trails near her. I will do it in all weather as long as the trails are passable and not muddy.. Its so cool!! - 6/2/2011   10:28:22 AM
  • 29
    I started hiking trails around my work during my lunch break and have noticed a huge difference in how I feel in the afternoon. Going on trails is so much better than walking around the office building or even the road. The stress relief is amazing. Plus, its a great way to work in another work out during the day. - 6/2/2011   9:33:13 AM
  • 28
    Nice! One thing that's become our family-favorite activity to do is hiking/biking trails when we go camping. - 6/2/2011   8:27:37 AM
  • 27
    I love to go walking at the nearby college arboretum. There is always something different to see or people to greet as I pass by. Need to remember to do this more frequently. - 6/2/2011   8:02:06 AM
  • 26
    I just returned from the Blueridge where I was able to hike two mountains. First, there was The Priest, a three mile hike. Secondly, Cole Mountain near Lexington, in Virginia.This is a one mile hike to the summit which has a view you will never forget. It is an easy hike and offers a 360 degree view of the Blueridge. You should try this one before any harder mountain hike. You will be inspired to do another! - 6/2/2011   7:55:41 AM
  • 25
    I'm blessed to live in the rolling hills of southern Germany, in a town bordered by wooded trails and unpaved roads used by the forestry service. I only have to walk five minutes to get to my usual (Nordic walking/running route). In the fall, I usually spend a few days in Switzerland - hiker's heaven. Thanks for a good article outlining some of the benefits! - 6/2/2011   4:39:38 AM
  • WISTERIALODGE
    24
    The mountains are taunting me! We've had one of the wettest springs ever and the snow has been very slow in melting, so the trails which aren't buried tend to be rather muddy. I'm not afraid of a little mud, but it does get to be more work when you look like you're doing an impression of Frankenstein because your feet are so caked with mud! I've been waiting for the prescription ankle braces to come in before I do a "real" hike, because of problems with the ankles and wanting to prevent twists. But this time next week I'm going to be on a trail with some serious elevation to it. - 6/2/2011   3:05:05 AM
  • 23
    I have hiked most of my life. I live in Southern California in LA county, but on the boarder of SanBernardino County. We have many of trails and many of chalanging trails . I hike for pleasure and exercise. Lucky where I live I am at the foothills of mountains. One area that I hike is the Mt. Baldy area. The hiking is not for begginers and is classified strenous. I can go to the gym and do a hour and a half of cardio using elliptical, treadmill running hills, and the stair climber. But hiking does use alot of different muscles and you get challanged to make it to certain points. The next day you can feel sore. I went hiking with the Sierra club on a hike and it ended up being one of the toughest hikes. It was considered cross country and I did a lot of scrambling(using hands and feet) to get t up this mountain. Then when we got to the top we had to come back down this same mountain. My heart was even beating coming down the mointain. Everything was cramping up on this hike by the time I was done. The next day I felt it everywhere, but I was happy. - 6/2/2011   12:23:39 AM
  • 22
    Hitting the trails is great fun, really it's half the point of living out in the mountainous desert sometimes. I hit the trails a few times in the spring but it's getting to the point where it's so hot it can be dangerous in my area. Can't wait for fall for some more hiking! - 6/1/2011   11:54:59 PM

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