Hitting the trail is hailed by experts as one of the best ways to get your exercise. Check out why hikers have an edge and what you need to do to get started.

When you think of going on a hike, what immediately comes to mind? Maybe the epic views, the calming sensation of dirt crunching beneath your feet, the fresh mountain air, and the sounds and smells of the great outdoors. The immersive experience of tramping through the woods is rewarding enough, but the benefits of hiking go way beyond captivating scenery and rejuvenating air that fills our lungs. Experts also tout hiking as an ideal aerobic activity to both exercise our body and restore our mind.

Hiking stands apart from the rest

Hiking is unique because it blends an invigorating workout with time absorbed in nature, a proven remedy for elevating mood and recharging your mental battery. Hiking is low impact, accessible for people of all skill levels, and usually costs nothing. A hiker can enjoy both immediate benefits like decreased anxiety and long-term benefits like weight loss. Hiking can also boost your creativity, help you feel accomplished and competent, and provides a fun opportunity for social interaction. In fact, research found that hiking boosted life satisfaction and a sense of wellbeing for a group of middle-aged and older adults.

Hiking vs. running vs. walking: how do they stack up?

Hikes challenge us in different ways than walking and running because a hiker’s entire body must stay engaged to adapt to a trail’s ever-changing terrain. Constant mental focus is needed to navigate around roots, stones, and other hikers, and walking on uneven surfaces causes our thigh and calf muscles to work harder to take shorter uneven steps, using 28% more energy than regular walking.  How does hiking compare with running? Results vary, but one study found that hiking 4.1 miles for 2.1 hours expended 916 kcal, 126 kcal more than running 6 miles for 1.2 hours, which burned 790 kcal.

6 easy tips for a successful hike

Hiking is deceptively simple, requiring you to only put one foot in front of the other. But it also provides you a wonderful opportunity to let go of your worries, be fully present in the here and now, and be inspired by the extraordinary beauty that surrounds you. Are you ready to get started?

Þ   Scout it out. A simple online search will lead you to trails in your area. Websites like Find Your Park, Nature Find, and Nature Rocks are great places to start, and programs like “Rails to Trails” and “Parks and People” offer guided hikes and trail maps. Local outdoor adventure clubs often announce upcoming group hikes on social media.

Þ   Know your trail before you go. Choose a trail that is a good fit for your experience and fitness level and familiarize yourself with the trail before you arrive. Learn how long it is, where it is, how challenging it is, and what type of environment it is. Is it in the open sun? Is it rocky? Is it wet and marshy?

Þ   Let someone know your plans. Before you venture out, let a relative or friend know where you will be and when you are expected to return. Hike with a group or at least one other person whenever possible.

Þ   Gear up. Bring a small backpack with essentials like snacks, a map, sunscreen, rain jacket, and flashlight, and a bottle of water. Water gets heavy, so if you can, plan a route that will pass by a water fountain so that you can refill your bottle when necessary. Invest in a good pair of hiking boots If hiking on uneven or steep terrain.

Þ   Stretch. Warmup and cool down stretches before and after a hike are essential to prevent injury.

Þ   Pace yourself. Start slowly. Schedule 30-minute hikes 3 times a week on level terrain for the first month. Gradually incorporate hills and uneven terrain as you work your way up to a recommended 150 minutes per week.