Go Take a Hike
Hiking: not just for naturalists
If you’re close enough to read this, you’re probably someplace near a hiking trail. (Don’t believe us? Check out AllTrails.com and see. We’ll wait). It’s one of the neat things about living in New York (and thereabouts)… there’s plenty of nature lurking around in some surprisingly local places. And, as the season changes gears into something cooler, this is the perfect time to go exploring.
Really? The Outdoors?
Listen, we’re big fans of civilization. We love us some stationary fitness equipment that’s effective, safe, and doesn’t come with a side of black flies or miscellaneous wild animals. However, there comes a time in everyone’s lives when we have to face the facts.
There’s a whole world out there. And we can hike it.
“Hiking” is a broad term that, for the purposes of this highly-scientific blog will mean “walking on trails in the outdoors. For some of you, that might mean a stroll through Thacher State Park. For others of you, that might mean lacing up your boots and becoming an Adirondack 46er (or any of its dozens of cousins, like the Lake George 12ster, the Tupper Lake Triads, and so on). No matter what your trail choice or intensity (groomed or paved, easy or intense), the data suggests that hiking is not only a great form of exercise, it can help improve your mental health and aid in disease prevention.
Hiking can be done just about anywhere, on a variety of paths and trails that can be paved, gravel, groomed, or maintained.
First, the obvious
You can probably decipher that hiking is great physical exercise. From flats to inclines to rock scrambles, hiking presents your body with the need to adapt to movement outside of our typical sub/urban lifestyles. Muscle recruitment increases from the outset — your core and legs, arms and the muscles in your feet are working and adjusting to keep you upright, moving, and balanced. And, as any inclines will show you, your heart and lungs have to increase their pace to keep up — all of these nuances mean improved cardiovascular health, as well as improved strength and even mobility. Heck, even your bone density can improve over time! And as you might surmise, the rockier the terrain, the better the workout: the body must activate seldom-used muscles around the hips, knees and ankles to help maintain your balance and propulsion. The result? Better balance and mobility for everyday life.
“I go to nature to be soothed, healed and have my senses put in order.”
– John Burroughs
Nature Can Improve your Mental Health
The effects of nature are something we’ve inherently understood for centuries. Hippocrates said “Nature itself is the best physician,” and American author Henry David Thoreau wrote in his famed book, Walden, or Life in the Woods, “We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
We as humans benefit from time in nature, and scientists are learning why.
Hiking can improve your cognitive function
A 2015 Stamford study discovered that time spent in nature has a positive effect on emotional regulation — two groups of participants were tasked with walking 90 minutes. One group was set in an urban environment, the other in nature, and the results were encouraging: “Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment.”
Additionally, a prior study found that participants in nature exhibited improved cognitive function and memory, while reducing anxiety and rumination.
Sounds like we should scope out some hiking boots, yeah?
Lehpam’s Ledge, Bethel, Maine
While hiking is a great mental escape, on the more difficult hikes it can also be a physically intense activity. If you want to make those more physically demanding hikes easier here are some things you can do in the gym to help build strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Goblet squats target your quads, hamstrings and glutes.
How to do: Use a kettlebell holding with both hands between your sternum. Place your feet about hip width apart and place your weight in your heels. Descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Make sure your knees do not extend beyond your toes. Once your thighs are properly parallel on the floor, stand straight up until your hips are fully extended.
Step-ups target quads and glutes and are great for building muscle for climbing.
How to do: Use a box at the gym approximately 10-16 inches high. Raise one foot on the box and use your muscles to step up fully onto the box. Alternate legs between each rep. As you become more comfortable, opt for taller boxes.
One common misconception of hiking is that the downhill is actually easier than the uphill, but in reality it is just as challenging as the uphill climb. The descent will shred your thighs. Downhill lunges will target your core and quads and also help strengthen your stabilizer for those challenging downhill descents.
How to do: Find a small downhill gradient and keep your upper body straight, shoulders back. Then, engage your core and step forward with one leg until your front knee is bent 90 degrees. Make sure your knee is directly above your ankle and does not extend beyond your toes. Then step forward so both of your legs are together then alternate to stepping forward with the other leg.
Dead bugs are a safe and effective way to strengthen and stabilize your core, spine, and back muscles. This improves your posture and helps relieve and prevent low back pain.
You’ll also improve balance and coordination.
How to do: Lie on your back with knees stacked over hips. Reach arms straight up from shoulders. Extend one leg and opposite arm toward the floor, being sure to keep core braced. Stop a few inches from the floor (or sooner, if your spine starts to arch). Return to start. Repeat on the other side.
This is a must do exercise for becoming a better hiker. Kettlebell deadlifts target hamstrings.
How to do: Use a kettlebell, if it is your first time doing this go lighter and then increase as you build up your strength. Stand with your feet hip width apart with your toes pointed forward, hold the kettlebell with both hands in between your thighs and go down into a squat pushing out your butt like it is hitting a car door until the kettlebell reaches the ground. Then return upright by hinging your hips forward to the starting position.
The Stairmaster helps you with the cardio portion of your hike. It helps with your cardiovascular endurance while strengthening your climbing muscles.
Find a Stairmaster machine at your VENT in the cardio area. If you have never used a Stairmaster before it is recommended you start with a 5-10 minutes and increase overtime until you build up the stamina to get to 20 minutes. Overtime work on increasing your duration as opposed to speed, you won’t likely be sprinting up the mountain!
The how to video of all these exercises can be found here.
Our Favorite Local Hikes
If you are new to hiking and are looking for some local spots in the Capital Region to check out. Below are some great options in order of easiest to hardest to start your hiking journey!
Peebles Island Perimeter Trail | Waterford, NY
Located right in the middle of the Capital District, the Peebles Island Perimeter Trail is a 2.3 mile loop for a beginner hiker with a 108 ft elevation. It takes approximately 46 minutes to complete. The trail is open year round and dogs are welcome on a leash.
Thacher Park Long Path Loop | Altamont, NY
The Thacher Park Long Path Loop is a 4 mile loop for a moderate hiker with 314 ft elevation. It takes approximately 1 hour 35 minutes to complete. Dogs are welcome and may be off leash in some areas.
Hadley Mountain Trail | Hadley, NY
Hadley Mountain Trail is a 3.4 mile loop for an experienced hiker with 1,561 ft elevation. It takes approximately 2 hours and 27 minutes to complete. The best times to visit this mountain are between March through November. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.
Sleeping Beauty Mountain | Kattskill Bay, NY
If you are looking for a longer, but more moderate hike Sleeping Beauty Mountain is a great option. It offers beautiful east lake side views of Lake George.
It can vary 5-7-miles depending on which route you take with 1,341 ft elevation. It takes approximately 3 hours and 31 minutes to complete. The best times to visit this mountain are between March through November. Dogs are welcome and may be allowed off leash in some areas.
Buck Mountain Trail | Kattskill Bay, NY
Buck Mountain offers great views of Lake George and the mountains. Be aware that the end towards the summit (about the last mile) is a very challenging rocky vertical and is not recommended for most kids.
It is a 6 to 7-mile loop for an experienced hiker and considered a generally challenging hike with 1,988 ft gain in elevation. It takes approximately 4 hours 6 minutes to complete. The best times to visit this mountain are between March through November. Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash.
AllTrails Hiking App
Even if you are an experienced hiker, the AllTrails app can be really helpful when hiking or when looking for places to hike. It will tell you the length, difficulty, elevation and provide a live map of where you are on the trail.
Hiking has some incredible benefits.
Hiking is amazing for a lot of reasons, the top of which are its accessibility — you can find trails almost anyplace; its variability — your trails can range from easy to challenging; its positive effects for your body — balancing, breathing, and bracing all make for a stronger you; and its incredible boost to your mood — all that Nature out there is profoundly soothing to the mind and body.
So find yourself some sturdy boots, grab some bug spray and your AllTrails app, and we’ll see you on the trails!