Hiking and walking are a great form of exercise—whether you’re just embarking on improving your exercise routine or want to mix in something new. Hiking can burn 400-700 calories per hour and is easier on the joints than running.
“If you have been inactive for some time you may need to check with your primary care physician to make sure that you are safe to initiate an exercise regimen,” says Dr. Donald Hohman, a joint replacement specialist on the medical staff at Texas Health Center for Diagnostics and Surgery.
Hohman also suggests that if you are considering hiking and walking as a first step to reaching a fitness goal, you should start slowly and work up to more difficult trails and longer distances.
“As an example, if your intention is to start hiking, you should start by walking on level surfaces first and then progressing to walking uphill prior to initiating rigorous hiking trails for safety purposes,” he says.
Also take care to make sure you have addressed your feet.
“Proper footwear is certainly important when walking or hiking,” Hohman says. “Comfortable shoes that will provide you with the appropriate padding and support for walking are certainly important to avoid injury. Supportive shoes, primarily around the ankle, are most important when considering safety for hiking. Boots may even be required depending on the trails you may be negotiating.”
This preparation can extend to what you bring with you, too. In addition to having the right footwear, make sure your skin is protected with sunscreen and a good insect repellent, and consider layering your clothing. Research the trail you think you want to hit to make sure you don’t need to dress appropriately for things like snake encounters, high grasses, and other things that might require long pants and socks.
“Make sure that you have your cell phone with you, plenty of water, maybe even some food depending on how long you will plan on being out on the trails,” Hohman says, adding that if you’re entertaining the idea of a longer hike, you should take time before that date to condition your body so you can be safe and have fun.
And your allergies don’t have to stop you from hitting a trail, either. Dr. Steven Peskind, an ear, nose and throat specialist with Texas Health Center for Diagnostics & Surgery, says that your preparations can be as close as your local drugstore shelf.
“Taking medications such as nasal steroids and antihistamines will help before the activity,” Peskind says. “Doing nasal saline irrigations before and after outdoors activities will help a lot, too.”
But if you find yourself really miserable, Dr. Peskind says to seek medical attention if your acute symptoms don’t respond to nasal steroids or antihistamines. Consideration of longer term management with testing for environmental allergens and allergy immunotherapy might be appropriate.
Hiking can also help the mind. A recent study revealed that the exercise you get from walking can help with memory, and reduce stress and anxiety. Another study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “nature experience may improve mental well-being.”
A quick check of the American Hiking Association’s website revealed several local hiking projects set up to celebrate National Trails Day. But you can hit your own local trails, including these:
1. The Trinity Trail from Brockdale Park to Collin Park near Lake Lavon in Lucas. At 5.5 miles for the entire route, hikers say this trail is easy to moderate.
2. The Trinity Trail from Highland Park Trailhead to Sycamore Loop, also near Lake Lavon, but in Allen. This trail is 5.6 miles, and features the second largest sycamore tree in Texas. It is rated easy to intermediate.
3. The Rowlett Creek Trail is located at the Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve in Plano. If you’re looking for a short and shady walk, at 1.4 miles this trail just might fit the ticket, especially if you’re looking for a quick lunch break jaunt.
4. The Trinity River Audubon Trail, located at the Trinity River Audubon Center in Dallas, offers several trails ranging from a mile long to less than a quarter of a mile. It’s surrounded by all kinds of protected wildlife (including snakes), so dress accordingly.
6. The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge covers 3,621 acres and includes over 20 miles of hiking trails, making the park one of the largest city-owned nature centers in the United States.
7. Eagle Mountain Park is located on Eagle Mountain Lake in Northwest Tarrant County. The 400-acre park features almost six miles of trails, all on land that has remained virtually untouched and in its natural state.
9. If you’re looking for a mix of dedicated trail and choose-your-own adventure in your hike, Crystal Canyon Natural Area in Arlington offers both a half mile of soft surface hiking trail and almost 40 acres of very diverse geology.
10. Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano has a three-mile recreational trail and about three miles of unpaved natural trail that can satisfy both walkers and hikers.
So whether you’re a novice or an expert, hit the trails this month. It’s a low-cost, heart-healthy activity, and there are many benefits to walking, Hohman says.
“The heart-healthy benefits of physical activity can be achieved through activities such as walking,” he says. “What matters most is how frequently and for how long you are able to participate in these activities. If you can safely walk for 30 minutes a day that is an excellent first step in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.