In 2018 a survey found walking to be the most popular form of fitness with about 111 million Americans saying it was part of their fitness routine. About half as many Americans, 57.8 million, hit the trails to hike in 2020.
Both are pandemic safe and good, basic exercise. How different are hiking and walking though? Is one or the other a better workout?
Walking is typically considered to be an urban or suburban activity done on pavement, a gym track or treadmill. Hiking is always done outdoors on natural terrain, additionally changes in elevation making hiking a different activity than walking.
Both hiking and walking are fairly low-impact cardio that are good for managing cholesterol and blood pressure. Walking and hiking are all both widely recognized as heart healthy activities for all ages and even people with heart conditions. While hiking typically results in more calories burnt in less time most experts don’t consider one to be better than the other.
Both can also improve lung and heart performance, and both will assist in losing weight.
If you are having a hard time deciding which activity to participate in here are a few things to consider. As stated, hiking typically burns more calories in a shorter amount of time. Walking is a cheaper option as it doesn’t require any special gear like trail shoes or hiking boots. It may also require a gas expenditure to go hiking depending on where you live. Walking is also considered to be slightly safer was it is usually done on flat, man-made surfaces while hiking has higher instances of stumbles, falls and things like injured ankles. Being in nature on a hike may have a greater impact on mental wellness, however.
Cultivating a new, healthy habit can be difficult. However, these five steps or ideas may help make it easier to ingratiate a healthy habit into your life.
First, state or better yet write down a specific goal. A very specific goal. Don’t just say, “I’ll take a walk as often as I can.” Instead, one should say “I’ll take a 20 minute walk every day.” Studies have shown that the more abstract the goal, the less likely one is to reach it. Also, starting with a bite-sized goal will make progress easier to achieve—as we are creatures of habit, making major changes all at once will be uncomfortable. Make change in small, achievable steps. Don’t give in to instant gratification.
Creating a cue-based goal answering where, when, how, who can be very useful. So, going beyond even “I’ll take a 20 minute walk every day.” You might want to further define the goal to “After my afternoon meetings I will take a 20-minute walk with my dog at the dog park.” All of these details will help trigger your brain to remember to complete the goal.
Making the new habit fun or desirable is another way to help solidify a new habit. Instead of going overboard and “grinding it out” make it enjoyable. Maybe that means meeting with a friend to walk your dogs at the dog park. Build temptation—”I can only watch my favorite show while on the treadmill.”
Be flexible. Especially in the beginning. If you miss your afternoon dog walk, give it a shot after dinner. In fact, when first establishing a new habit it is a good idea to try it in different contexts. One never knows when making a lifestyle change might work for them.
Finally, look for social support. Find others you can discuss you progress with or others who might be interested in making it a group activity. We are social critters. We like to mimic the behavior of those around us. Find some friends and join a dog walking group that meets at the dog park several times a week.
While it might seem like common sense that hot weather stresses our bodies, even more if there is high humidity. If we don’t take precautions it can be dangerous and even lethal to over work our bodies in the heat.
Despite this feeling like common sense the number of deaths related to participating in sports during high heat has doubled in the US since 1975 (National Institutes of Health). The US CDC reported that about 650 people die from extreme heat every year.
If you are planning on any kind of outside activity in extreme heat keep the following in mind.
Consider the time of day. Generally speaking, between 10am-3pm is going to be the hottest part of the day and intense activity should be avoided during this time.
Knowing your risk level is important as well, things like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or medication restrictions may make one at higher risk for heat related injury or death.
Your body may need to get used to the heat, so if transitioning to working out in the heat you may want to make your workouts less intense and shorter and build back up to your normal.
Keep hydrated! This doesn’t mean just drinking water but also consuming high water content foods before or after your workout.
Know the symptoms of heat distress like nausea, vomiting, cramps, weakness, or fatigue. Use the body system, have an activity partner and watch out of each other.
A JAMA journal study recently found that depressive symptoms have tripled in the US during the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. High risk groups such as people under 30 and health care workers were even more likely to develop anxiety or depression because of the pandemic concluded a study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
Regular exercise like swimming, yoga, running, tai chi or weight training remains one of the best tools individuals have to improve their overall mood and general mental health.
A five year old meta-analysis of 23 controlled trials that regular exercise could be as effective of antidepressants and psychotherapy in treating depression.
Part of this is due to the creation of endorphins. However, exercise results in important structural changes to the brain. These changes take place in the hippocampus which is involved in the memory formation and emotional regulation.
Over time exercise like running and swimming reduces inflammation and increased nerve growth in the hippocampus. This will have positive effects on memory and mood, according to many studies. On the other hand, shrinking of the hippocampus has been demonstrated to be linked to development of mood disorders like depression or even the more serious bipolar disorder.