by Martha Jevsevar, Director of Outdoor Recreation
It is well-documented that regular brisk walking can help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your mood, and increase your general health and well-being. This premise is nicely encapsulated by a quote from John Muir, America's most influential naturalist: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Though any walk is better than none, a walk outdoors feeds the soul in a unique way. The fresh air, sunshine, and smells and sounds of nature provide not only cardiovascular exercise but much-needed mental clarity.
How can we take our daily walks to the next level? How can we increase our fitness, challenge our minds and bodies, shed a few unwanted pounds, and spice up our regular routine? Hiking is a natural progression from walking but differs in important ways.
A walk implies relatively smooth and level surfaces. Walks occur on a treadmill, a neighborhood sidewalk, a gravel path, or a sandy beach. Hiking, in contrast, is done on trails with uneven surfaces; this includes moving over rocks, logs, sandstone, and other obstacles. Hiking requires a lot more effort than walking, but more energy expended translates directly into greater rewards.
Hiking requires more strength than walking. Even a mild hike will challenge your balance, engage your core muscles, and force your mind to quickly plan your next step. This keeps you mentally engaged, while walking is much easier to do on autopilot. Typically, a walk is done at a slower pace with relatively little elevation gain. Hikes can be gentle too, but also very strenuous. When making the transition from walking to hiking, it’s best to start with entry-level trails to create successful, positive experiences and slowly progress from there.
If you can comfortably walk for an hour or so, seek out some hiking trails in your area or consider planning a vacation that includes hiking. Shelley Staley, an adventure guide and personal trainer at Red Mountain Resort, recommends adding planks and single leg lunges to your workout routine to help your transition from walking to hiking.
"These exercises will increase strength in major muscles that hikers rely on. Stronger legs and core muscles will better support your body when moving over uneven surfaces and help you take harder, longer hikes,” Staley says. “As your desire for adventure grows, you will want to slowly build endurance in those same muscle groups, because hiking can be an all-day activity.”
Any movement is good for your body and mind. But as you plan your wellness goals for 2020, consider challenging yourself by moving away from the comfort zone of walking and entering the courage zone of hiking.
Hiking will help you shed unwanted weight and enjoy increased energy, better moods, and deeper sleep. Aside from enhanced fitness, your intangible rewards will grow exponentially as well. Once again, John Muir’s wisdom and guidance are relevant: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
About Martha Jevsevar
Martha Jevsevar joined the Red Mountain team in August 2014 as an adventure guide before assuming the role of Director of Outdoor Recreation. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, her passion for travel and the outdoors developed during backpacking trips through the Tetons and Allegheny Mountains, and she quickly fell in love with southern Utah’s dramatic landscapes. Her professional experience includes business management, accounting, and serving on community advisory boards.