Hiking for Fitness

Hiking for fitness? This can be the best time of year to think about it.

Summer may be the time of year when you really take the time for outdoor exercise. The season when you eat mostly fresh produce and fresh-caught fish. The days when you’re too busy for snacking.

For some of us, though, it’s the time when the kids are home calling for snacks all day and we nosh on cookies and sodas with them. The time when family fun means we end up at fast food joints for way too many mealtimes. Days that are so hot we spend hours on the sofa with a screen lit up in front of us.

If you’re in the second group, back to school may be the right time to recommit to healthier habits, including more movement. Maybe hiking is a part of that plan.

Does hiking lead to fitness?

Short answer: yes. Walking is good exercise, working out all the muscles in your legs, your glutes, and your heart. Hiking, assuming that you’re getting more up and down hill variety and using your core for balance on difficult terrain, is a step up from walking. It works out all those leg muscles, plus your lower back, your abs, and your obliques. Naturally, since hiking is basically a more strenuous form of walking, it also does more for your heart and lungs.

Experts say that adults need 150 minutes of cardio a week to stay in shape, plus strength training. It takes a couple of months to see significant changes on that schedule. Keep it up and — depending how sedentary you are to begin with — you can expect to look and feel much fitter within a year.

That’s a long-term commitment, but that’s what fitness requires, whether you’re in a gym or hiking the beauty spots of the Ozarks. Hiking may be more enjoyable, though, so you might stick with it for the long term. A weekly hike lasting two or three hours is what it takes — or several shorter hikes during the week.

Getting started

If you already enjoy walking and take the occasional hike, you can increase fitness just by hiking more often.

If you’re a couch potato just starting to hike, start out with a realistic plan. Get on a treadmill and find out how long you can walk comfortably. Since there will be uphill and downhill stretches on most hiking trails, try out a program with some changes in incline.

If you can walk steadily for 30 minutes, you’ve got the perfect length for a hike before or after work each day. An hour? That’s about right for a hike three times a week.

Check out how many miles you’ve gone. Now grab a guidebook and find a hike with that distance. If you comfortably did three miles on the treadmill, choose a three mile hiking trail. The uneven terrain will make the hike a little bit more challenging — which is what you want.

If a quarter mile was more your speed, start with walking in your neighborhood and work your way up to a mile before you start looking for a good hike.

Beginner’s gear

You can start hiking in sneakers, but you’ll value a good pair of hiking shoes if you begin to hiking for fitness regularly. Come to Uncle Sam’s — maybe to celebrate your first big milestone, like the first time you hike for 150 minutes in one week  — and let our knowledgeable, friendly staff help you find that first perfect pair of hiking boots.

You’ll need a good way to carry water, too, and maybe that guidebook. Hiking isn’t an expensive hobby, but rewarding yourself with new gear can be an affordable way to stay motivated.


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