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Are you hot on the trail for a different kind of workout? Then hiking or trail running may be just what you’re looking for!

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Heading off the beaten path to walk or run combines the fat-burning intensity of interval training with a meditative, mind-body experience. These activities are excellent cardiovascular and muscle-building workouts and the different surfaces and inclines you’ll encounter on a trail help you improve balance. Softer surfaces underfoot also alleviate some of the stress your body endures when walking or running on harder surfaces.

That’s not the only type of stress that can be reduced when you take a hike! Exercising outdoors surrounded by natural beauty also provides mood-boosting benefits. Replacing the sights, sounds and demands of the day with the tranquility of nature can wash away stress and help you relax. A 2015 study at Stanford University showed that walking in nature decreased worry, anxiety and other negative thoughts among participants.

If you are new to hiking or trail running, it’s important to choose the right trails and pace yourself. Even experienced trail runners should be careful not to overexert themselves and to be prepared for varied terrain. Here are some helpful tips to make the experience safer and more enjoyable:

  • Select trails appropriate for your fitness level. Chose trails that appeal to you to keep it interesting, but also consider accessibility and difficulty. Start with flat surfaces that are not rocky or riddled with roots. As you feel more comfortable, you can start exploring terrain with more varied surfaces and inclines for a more strenuous workout.
  • Increase intensity gradually. Slowly increase your pace, incline or distance for a more challenging cardiovascular workout, but don’t do too much too soon or you risk injury. To help prevent injuries, increase your pace or distance no more than 10% a week. You can also vary your workout by including intervals of faster and slower intensity.
  • Enjoy your surroundings. To get the full benefit of trail walking or running, take off your headphones and take in the sights, sounds and smells of nature.
  • Listen to your body. If you start to feel pain or something doesn’t feel right, slow down or take a break until you feel better. One of the best ways to avoid injury is to pay attention to the signals your body sends.

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Date Last Reviewed: April 8, 2019

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Andrew P. Overman, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS

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