Become an Urban Hiker!

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Do you absolutely hate exercise, even though you know it’s good for you?  I think we all do.  We know it keeps us healthy.  We know it makes us feel better physically and mentally (when we’re done).  We know it keeps us limber and flexible and strong.  We know all of this intellectually, but actually getting up off the couch, when “Downton Abbey” or “Game of Thrones” is on, is hard. Especially in a pandemic when motivation may be at an all-time low.

You may have already guessed by the title of this new column that I have a suggestion.  For older adults, but for anyone really, urban hiking is a great way to get exercise and stay motivated to keep it up.  Studies show that people who spend time outdoors in nature are happier.  Being outdoors can help fight depression, lower blood pressure, and maybe even improve memory.  (Read more about that here.)  Urban hiking – in your neighborhood, in a park, on a nearby trail – is an easy, cheap, and fun way to get your cardio on.

Don’t be fooled by the name.  Some people think you can’t really “hike” unless you’re in a forest or on a mountain, but that’s not true. “Hiking” typically means a longer walk or a walk that happens in a park or forested area.  Almost all small parks have some kind of walking trail, and we have a lot of parks in north county.  As for equipment, all you need is a good pair of athletic shoes and seasonally appropriate outerwear, which you probably already have in your closet at home.  Sure, you can invest in some hiking boots or walking poles if you want to do something more adventurous, and we will cover those options in future columns, but it’s not at all required.

A full exercise regimen should also include some stretching and strength training exercises, and we’ll talk about that at some point too, but if you just need to get started, all you really need is to put one foot in front of the other.  To help get you started, here are a few basics.

Track Your Distance:  if you have a smartphone, you can download any one of a dozen great (GPS) walking apps to track how far you walked and for how long.  I have used RunKeeper for years and highly recommend it. It tracks distance, speed, elevations, and calories burned, and when I’m done, I have a map of the route I walked.  If you have a great app, please let me know (leave a note in the comments on Facebook), and I may use your recommendation in a future column. If you have a fitness tracker that you wear on your wrist, you can track your distance that way too, and we will discuss these and “counting steps” in a future column. 

Map Your Route:  If you are on Facebook, be sure to join the Walk Ferguson group, where most weeks, we post suggested routes for walks in and around Ferguson.  I also suggest you check out St. Louis County’s 30/30 Hikes Program.  St. Louis County has 45 parks, 30 of which have trails you can complete in about 30 minutes, thus the “30/30” name.  These trails are a great way to kick-start your walking-hiking program while also exploring new parks and communities. It’s also a challenge, which means if you walk all 30 parks and fill out the punch card, you can turn it in for a prize.  

Get Started!  If you are new to walking/hiking, or haven’t walked in a while, start slow and easy.  You can walk around your neighborhood, or walk at one of Ferguson’s wonderful parks.  Aim for a minimum of 15 to 30 minutes on your first outing.  You can do this by walking around the lake at January-Wabash Park two or three times.  You can walk just around the lake, or for an extra cardio challenge, take the path up the hill on the north side of the park, and even that hill has two options for you.  

Already an Urban Hiker?  If you are an experienced urban hiker and need more of a challenge, I suggest you check out the Champ Park Trail in the Florissant area. It’s one of the County’s 30/30 hikes, and it’s a beautiful eco-trail, meaning it is earthen, not paved. You probably want to do this trail on a day when the weather has been dry.  Check back next week for a description of the trail and how my first experience with it went. 

That’s All For this Week.  Check back for additional tips, ideas, and information on hiking, walking, wellness, equipment, and more!  Feel free to post questions and suggestions on our Facebook page.