Hiking, which can include everything from walking a flat nature path to climbing Everest, enhances cardiovascular fitness and can lower blood pressure. Going up and down hills gives the heart a great workout! But if you’re just starting out, there a few important things to keep in mind.
From a PT’s perspective, one of the most important things whenever trying a new activity, sport, or movement, is to give your body time to adjust to the increased stress from the activity before progressing. One of the reasons hiking is a great activity is because it can be tailored to all fitness levels. When starting out hiking, choose a hike that is relatively flat (no elevation gain) and is short in distance. The Dry Canyon Trail in Redmond or the River Trail in Bend are great options for beginners since they are relatively flat, have paved portions, and can be done for any distance. Once you feel comfortable with the flat hikes, slowly progress to longer hikes and ones with more elevation change. A general rule of thumb for progression is increasing the distance by 10% each time. This progression will help your body adjust to the stress and limit the chance of overuse injuries.
Once you’re ready for longer, more aggressive hikes, make sure that you are fueling your body appropriately. Consume a healthy meal 2-4 hours before your hike, and be sure to pack a few snacks. General guidelines for a good snack will be one that is easy to pack and is around 120-150 calories (for a few hour hike), with around 30-60 grams of carbohydrates. Some options include nutrition bars, string cheese, and fruit.
It’s also important to remember that elevation change can often be a more important factor than distance. Elevation per mile is a common metric that you will see when researching hikes. Generally 200-400 feet/mile is a fairly easy hike, while 400-700 feet/mile is moderate, 700- 1000 feet per mile is more difficult, and 1000+ feet/mile is very difficult. The app AllTrails is a good tool to use to anticipate how difficult a hike might be.