5 Reasons To Hit The Trail


As much as we may not want to admit it, sometimes working out can just get boring – especially at the gym. For many folks, hitting the treadmill or elliptical several times a week can feel stale or tedious. One solution: Take your workout outside.

Running on different trails or simply running at different times of day can make your workout feel new. In addition, numerous studies have illustrated that spending time outdoors provides a slew of physical and mental health benefits. From trail running to forest bathing to mountain biking, exercising in nature or on a trail can provide a dynamic backdrop for a robust workout that invigorates your body and stimulates the mind.

The Benefits of Trail Workouts

Here are a few key health benefits that trail running and riding can offer:

  1. You’ll use different muscle groups. Compared to running or walking on a treadmill, navigating a trail often means climbing and descending hills (or at the very least, slightly less stable terrain). That means your legs, ankles, feet and even your core need to work differently to keep you moving properly.
  2. Overuse injuries are less likely. Over time, pounding the pavement day after day can be taxing on the same muscles. When you switch up your gait or shift your weight while riding your bike, you give your typical running or riding muscles a break, thereby reducing the strain you put on them.
  3. You can de-stress. Stress increases your risk for nearly every disease. Dozens of studies have shown that spending time in greenery or even just looking at a forest environment can lead to lower levels of cortisol, as well as reduced blood pressure.
  4. Boosted creativity. In 2010, psychologists at the University of Utah and the University of Kansas discovered that backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature. Long distance runners are often asked “What do you think about when you run?” For some, the answer is “nothing.” For others, it’s “everything.” While walking, running or riding on a trail, your mind naturally finds ways to entertain itself.
  5. Community. While plenty of gyms offer classes and other ways to socialize, trail running and road cycling boast strong communities of their own. Consider linking up with a local running club or riding group. In addition to forming friendships, you’ll also have folks who can hold you accountable and provide you with a fixed workout time.

If you’ve never tried running or riding on a trail before, it can be daunting. Start with a trail close to home that’s relatively flat and don’t overdo it. Even if you typically walk or run three miles on a treadmill, start with a shorter distance and see how you feel.

Additional precautions to take:

  • Apply sunscreen. Regardless of the season, your skin is still susceptible to the sun, and UV rays can reach you from unexpected sources.
  • Use bug repellent. Low-lying areas with water nearby are more likely to boast mosquitoes and other pesky insects that can get put a damper on your outdoor recreation.
  • Avoid suspicious plants. When in doubt about plants that may cause damage to your skin, simply look for a way around them or prevent them from coming into contact from your skin.
  • Shower as soon as you can. The buildup of sweat on your skin can lead to more breakouts and other skin conditions and a post-workout shower can also help your body return to its resting state.

In the end, of course, a trail workout should provide a way to make fitness more fun and provide new challenges that you can’t find indoors.

To find an athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Nick Parkinson, M.Ed., ATC, AT, currently works with the student athletes at University of Detroit Jesuit High School, as well as serving in the role of Lead Athletic Trainer with Henry Ford Sports Medicine. He is a regular contributor to Henry Ford LiveWell. Learn more about Nick.

Categories: MoveWell