Healthy Hiking

Time to head for the hills

Hiking, the perfect mind-body workout, activates endorphins, the so-called happiness hormones, boosting spirits to make us feel and look better. The Okanagan Valley boasts many hiking trails and clubs to get you started. For most of us the great outdoors is just a few minutes away.

What are you waiting for?


Getting out for a walk in any environment is a good thing, but going for a hike in nature is even better. Walking or running indoors on a treadmill is great exercise for improving mental states but nature surpasses when it comes to fighting common mental health issues like stress. A hike has the added benefits of clearing your head and improving your general outlook on life. Time spent in green space – nature preserves, woodlands and even urban parks - can reduce stress levels. As far as health risks are concerned, word has it that “sitting is the new smoking.” Also, there is a growing consensus that stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease risk, so time spent hiking is likely to mitigate the effects of long and often sedentary workdays spent in front of a screen.

That first step out the door could also make your work time more productive. Research has shown that those who spend time in nature, and less time with technology, are up to 50 per cent more creative when it comes to problem solving tasks. To relieve the effects of mental fatigue brought on by too much technology, avert your gaze from the screen, unplug and step out the door. Remember to leave your headphones at home.


Let’s start with your glutes. If Jennifer Lopez’ booty is your ideal, hiking is for you. The glutes, a series of muscles which support the torso in all types of physical activities, support your bodyweight and backpack while hiking. Performing pre-season squats in the gym is a great way to prepare. Flexible and limber hip muscles help support the lower back and improve shock absorbing on those downhill steps. Strong abdominal muscles promote an upright posture while helping to support the load on the back. Your quadriceps, situated above the knee at the front of the leg, get a major workout while hiking both downhill and uphill. They help to propel you forward and assist your knee in straightening and bending. In combination with the quads, the hamstrings, situated in the rear of your upper thigh, pull the legs back. Closer to your boots, the calves, situated in the rear of the lower leg, are in constant motion on the uphill. All these muscles benefit from warm ups followed by gentle stretching before hiking.

Engaging all of these muscles on a regular basis will improve your stamina, balance and stability, protect you from the risk of falls and reduce overuse injuries to knees and hips. More good news. Depending on your body weight you could burn up to 550 calories per hour of hiking. The number of calories in part depends on your body weight. The more you weigh, the more you burn. A 200-lb person burns 550 calories per hour. Carrying a pack also contributes to calorie burn. A daypack counts for 50 to 100 calories per hour while an overnight pack will burn up to 200 more. Of course, the more challenging the terrain, the greater the number of calories burned.


The beauty of hiking is that you don’t have to be in great shape to get started. However, as with any new physical activity, before rambling up any steep hills check with your doctor, especially if you are over the age of 35, have high blood pressure or have been inactive for a while. Hike with a partner or join a hiking club, learn to use a map and compass and carry them at all times to back up your GPS. Bring along lots of water and remember to drink often to stay hydrated, even on those cold winter days, especially important in the dry Okanagan air.


Reliable, comfortable equipment can make any outdoor experience even better. Most important, purchase sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support. Don’t forget to break them in with shorter walks so you’re not surprised by blisters on longer outings. A comfortable daypack with outside pockets to carry your favourite water bottles is a must. Take full water bottles and extra clothing to the store, in order to check out the feel of the pack when full before deciding on your purchase. Height adjustable hiking poles, the lighter the better, round out the equipment list. Look for ones that fold into three sections. They’re easy to store in your daypack or larger duffle if you want to travel afar for multi day hikes.


Hiking exists on a huge continuum from walking on a local woodsy trail or hill busting in the Okanagan, to routes in the Canadian Rockies. The possibilities are endless. Soon more ambitious adventures like Europe’s famous Tour de Mont Blanc or El Camino de Santiago or even treks in the Himalayas may seem possible. They all start with that first step out the door. Hiking, usually thought of as a three-season activity, can be extended in winter by adding snowshoes to your equipment list. Join a hiking club to find partners. Most hikes are suitable for all ages, so get the kids involved and join as a family.


Experts say two and a half hours per week of moderate activity will result in most of the health benefits in the Top Ten list. Reducing the risks of breast cancer or colon cancer require 60 more minutes per week. If more vigorous activities like hiking uphill with a heavy pack are more your style, you can get away with 75 minutes per week and still gain the health benefits. And, guess what? You don’t have to do it all at once. A quick lunchtime hike, up a hill near your office counts, as long as it lasts at least 10 minutes.


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