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Hiking is good for your health and provides numerous benefits.  It is challenging to hike in the summer months here in Phoenix, but you can make it happen.  The key is to hike either before the sun comes up or after it sets in the evening.  I tackled South Mountain this evening with my daughter and pups (a Shih Tzu and a Standard Poodle) and came across two large coyotes on our way down the mountain.  It was my first ever encounter with the wild beasts and I feared they coveted Mason (my Shih Tzu) for dinner.

I quickly picked him up and was prepared for a fight as we descended.  We made it safely, but I an not excited about another encounter.  Hike with caution in the desert, but surge ahead in other areas!

The Top Ten Health Benefits of Hiking

By Cathy Dold | Posted August 19 2011

Guest blogger Catherine Dold, an avid hiker, is a freelance health and environment writer in Colorado. She is creator of the Certified Good Hiker Kit, which teaches kids how to “have fun, stay safe and tread lightly” in the outdoors.

You know hiking is good for your health. But do you know just how good it is?

For adults, regular aerobic exercise such as hiking leads to:

* Improved cardiorespiratory fitness (heart, lungs, blood vessels)

* Improved muscular fitness

* Lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke

* Lower risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes

* Lower risk of high cholesterol and triglycerides

* Lower risk of colon and breast cancer, and possibly lung and endometrial cancer

* Increased bone density or a slower loss of density

* Reduced depression and better quality sleep

* Lower risk of early death (If you are physically active for 7 hours a week, your risk of dying early is 40% lower than someone active for less than 30 minutes a week.

* Weight control; hiking burns up 370 calories an hour (154-lb person)

Kids get many of the same benefits, including:

* Improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness

* Better bone health

* Less chance of becoming overweight

* Less chance of developing risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes

* Possibly reduced risk of depression and feeling less stress, more ready to learn in school

* Sleeping better at night

What’s more, hiking exercises almost every part of your body: legs, knees, ankles, arms, hips and butt, abdominals, shoulders and neck. “Hiking exercises your body andyour mind, and nourishes your imagination,” says Ignacio Malpica, a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer in Boulder, Colorado. “It creates awareness in your eyes and ears and the rest of your senses.”

How much activity do you need to reap these incredible health benefits? Experts saygetting active for just 150 minutes a week – doing “moderate-intensity” aerobic exercise such as moderate hiking or brisk walking – leads to most of these benefits (reducing risks of colon and breast cancer requires another hour a week). That’s only 2½ hours a week. And you don’t have to do it all at once. Sneaking in a lunchtime hike up the hill near your office counts toward your total, as long as you’re active for at least ten minutes.

If you take part in more vigorous aerobic activities, such as running, dancing, or hiking uphill or with a heavy pack, you need only half that amount of time, or 75 minutes a week, to get health benefits.

What’s moderate exercise? You can talk, but you can’t sing during the activity. Vigorous? You can’t say more than a few words with pausing for breath. “When you are doing moderate exercise, you can continue for a long time, and you are breathing rhythmically,” explains Malpica. “With vigorous exercise, you can’t do it for more than a few minutes at a time.”

And if you rack up even more time, the benefits keep growing too. For even more substantial health benefits, such as an even lower risk of heart disease, aim for 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week.

Of course, there are other kinds of physical activity. It’s also important to do somemuscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups. The experts say do those at least twice a week. You also need to get in some bone-strengthening activity, which occurs when force on your bones promotes bone growth and strength. Here again, hiking fits the bill.

Another plus: you don’t have to be in perfect shape to start. Even if you are overweight, getting physical can lead to health benefits. But don’t run out and climb a steep peak if you’ve long been inactive. The experts say if you’re 35 or older and have been inactive for several years, or you already have a condition such as high blood pressure, check with your doctor first. “Hiking is a great way to start exercising,” says Malpica. “Start with easy hikes and work up to steeper hikes that work your legs more.”

Kids (age 6-17) need 60 minutes of physical activity each day, mostly aerobic. They also need regular muscle-strengthening (playing on playground equipment, climbing trees) and bone-strengthening (running, playing basketball, jumping rope) exercise.

Track Your Workouts

Keeping track of your activity can help you rack up the minutes. Note what you did as well as the length of each workout, and tally it up at the end of the week. Watching your progress can be a great motivator.

Use a calendar to track your workouts. Or try one of the many online options, such asMapMyHike.com, where you can map your own hikes and share your routes with others.

CONNECT THE DOTS

For more on the health benefits of exercise and to download an activity tracker, see the2008 Physical Activity Guidelines. To learn more about hiking (including a state-by-state directory of parks), see the American Hiking Society site, and read about some enticing hiking trips on Call of the Wild. Introduce your children to hiking safety and trail manners with GoodHiker’s resources. Track your hiking miles on MapMyHike. Find out more about the exercise for kids on MedlinePlus.

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