Tired of the same old gym workout? Grab your hiking boots and head into the great outdoors to boost your fitness, improve your mental health and trim your waistline, writes PT Jay Bonaretti

 

Regular walking is one of the easiest and best forms of exercise that just about anyone can do. Taking it to the next level, hiking increases the strength of the cardiovascular system, helps in lowering the risk of heart disease and also helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Hiking is also beneficial for regulating blood sugar levels and maintaining healthy bodyweight through caloric expenditure. This is particularly beneficial for anyone with health concerns such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease or obesity.

A 2004 study revealed how hiking can influence sugar and fats in the blood of those who participated in this popular outdoor activity. Austrian researchers conducted a comparison of two groups of individuals, studying the health benefits of regular hiking.

The study took place at a ski resort in the Swiss Alps. One group hiked uphill for approximately two months while the second group was taken by cable car to a much higher elevation where they hiked downhill. The groups then switched their programs after two months.

The results showed hiking downhill as well as uphill provided excellent health benefits. Both directions of hiking helped reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels. Triglyceride levels were reduced only when hiking uphill, while downhill hiking was twice as effective in lowering blood sugar levels and helping to improve glucose tolerance.

The great outdoors
Because hiking outdoors presents a completely different environment to the more familiar setting of a gym, there are many associated psychological benefits.
Actually enjoying the exercise will not only assist in sustainability of an exercise routine, it will also help in enhancing the effectiveness of that exercise. After all, if you enjoy a particular type of exercise, you’re likely to work out more vigorously. Plus all the sights, smells and sounds of the great outdoors will create a sense of novelty which can get you really excited about your fitness.
Hiking outdoors gives you the opportunity to breathe in crisp fresh air – a much nicer alternative to recycled air-conditioned gym air. It allows you to interact with your outdoor environment in an engaging visual setting. You don’t have to wait in line to go on a hiking trail – simply grab your gear and hit the road. Plus, hiking is free!
Hiking is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise to integrate into a structured exercise and nutritional plan. To enhance your weight loss, toning and fitness results, consider incorporating a hike with a carefully formulated weight training and nutritional plan.

Your road to success
When hiking, you are simply walking on a predetermined path. The difficulty of the path you choose to take can vary depending on your fitness level. For the novice, you may choose to begin with a stroll through your neighbourhood. As you become more adventurous, you may wish to venture off-road, such as through bushland or other more difficult terrain.
Let’s run through some primary considerations for your hike in order to ensure you obtain optimal benefits while minimising risk.

Plan and prepare
No matter what your level of experience, it’s important to plan exactly where you’re going to go and how long you plan to hike for. Use a map to plan your exact route. Especially if you are hiking through unfamiliar territory, it’s important to plan your trek to avoid getting lost. If you’re inexperienced, start with a less ambitious route. For longer hikes, you’ll need to equip yourself with the necessary fluids and foods.
Planning your hike also allows you to prepare your attire appropriately. For off-road terrain, running shoes may not be appropriate and you may require hiking boots. Long pants and sleeves may be required if walking through the bush to avoid scratches from branches, mosquito bites and sunburn.
It’s also important to bring a first-aid kit, field guide and mobile phone, particularly if you’re venturing off-road.

Undertake the hike
Having planned out your trek, you should be reasonably confident with your path. On off-road treks, it is important to always hike with someone else. Hiking alone can be risky if you become lost or injured.
When off-road, it’s important to take the necessary safety precautions. Always remain on the path and don’t vary from your plan. Be careful with rugged terrain as it’s easy to sustain injury from uneven or slippery surfaces.
Be sure to pace yourself. If you’re undertaking a long hike, you will need to last the distance.

Plan your next adventure
As you become fitter and more experienced, you’ll likely want to up the ante. Here are three ways to increase the intensity of your hike:
Try walking the same path and improving your time. As your fitness improves, you’ll be able to cover the same distance in a shorter amount of time.
Attempt the same path, but with a heavier backpack. The more weight you are carrying, the more calories you will expend.
Locate a more difficult path, particularly one that has many hills. This will aid in really challenging your level of fitness.

Jay Bonaretti is an award-winning PT who operates www.aminoz.com.au, one of Australia’s leading online personal training services and supplement stores.