Hiking for Health’s Sake III: Internal Medicine

By April 8, 2020 No Comments

For part three of this series, I took a look at the invisible benefits of hiking. My research uncovered a laundry list of positive outcomes from the activity of walking. We already know from previous studies that when done outdoors in green space, the benefits of walking (or hiking) grow even greater. I was pleased to find that on top of fitness and mental health, hiking is actually really good for your internal organs, skeletal system, and circulatory system too. I found source after source confirming the same findings, which I summarized here.

Benefits of walking include:

Improved sleep

Joint support (by increasing the movement of oxygen and nutrients)

Increased blood flow and prevention of blood clots

Strengthens the heart, decreases the risk of heart disease, and even lowers blood pressure

Improved memory and cognitive function

Decreased bone loss from osteoporosis (walking actually improves bone density)

Reduced risk for cancer and chronic disease

Lower cholesterol

Reduced risk of stroke

Increased lung function

Improved overall health

That is one impressive list, and there are other benefits not even mentioned here. Keep in mind that going for one hike around an 80 acre preserve is not going to immediately produce these benefits. By adding walking in nature, or hiking, into your normal routine, you can achieve these health benefits over time. And if you are someone who already gets outside for a stroll on a regular basis, definitely keep going. After finding all the positive outcomes of hiking, I was fired up to get out to the preserves and log some steps. I headed out to Hall’s Lake Natural Area to reap some of the rewards for myself.

When I arrived at the main parking area for Hall’s Lake Natural Area I found a map detailing the property. Compared to other properties managed by Chippewa Watershed Conservancy, Hall’s Lake has a more intricate trail system with multiple route options. I made sure to reference the map to get my bearings and to plan a route that fit my exercise goals. I grabbed my water bottle, fired up the fitness tracker and headed down the Outback Trail on a crisp spring day. The sun was shining, the air was cool and with no one else around I was free to breathe the clean, earthy air and enjoy the sounds of nature with no interruptions.

Using my steady power walk pace, I headed left on the Crossover Trail through the Neely Preserve to connect with the Lakeshore Trail. Hall’s Lake Natural Area is made up of four separate preserves combined into the larger natural area. With the route I had chosen I was going to walk through three out of four preserves. I followed the trail through a beautiful mixed hardwood forest, eventually coming to a rest at a viewing point atop a small hill overlooking Hall’s Lake, complete with bench and rustic kayak launch. I stopped for a moment to take in the view and catch my breath. A snake slithered by my foot, a squirrel rustled in the brush, and a chorus of birds sang over head. My mood had reached something close to elation, my muscles were warm and my heart was steadily pumping blood through my veins. I could feel my pulse and noticed I had broken a slight sweat already. I pushed on along the trail, which hugged close to the reeds and cattails at the edge of the lake. I had now crossed through the Kabana Preserve and entered the Schaftenaar Preserve. I turned off the Lakeshore Trail onto the Hilltop Loop and wound my way through the woods, eventually coming back to the Lakeshore Trail. I took that to the Crossover Trail and found myself back on the Outback Trail and inside the Kabana Preserve. I would follow this wide and open trail back to the parking lot to finish my route. In reality this was not as complex as it sounds in writing, but you can see why one would want to at least reference the map.

Now that I was on a straight shot back to the parking lot, I focused less on navigation and more on how I was feeling. As, with my previous hikes, I felt calm, centered, energized and fluid. My body and mind felt awake and alive. At the end of my hike, I checked my fitness tracker and saw that I had logged a 30 minute and 30 second workout, covering 1.36 miles with 3,462 steps and burning 153 calories. It also felt great knowing that I had helped increase blood flow, maintain joint health, lowered my risk of heart disease and diabetes, improved bone density and gotten tons of health benefits while enjoying the beautiful setting.