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Mar 29, 2017 02:38PM

Take a hike: Fitness options abound outdoors, for body and mind

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CTW Features
Take a hike ó literally. Itís good for your health.
As winter roars one last time throughout many parts of the country, there's no better time to start planning a spring hiking trip. Hiking provides more than beautiful scenery — there are countless mental and physical benefits that pop up along the trail.
"Hiking brings about the typical fitness advantages that all exercise produces, weight control, a healthy heart, strong muscles, but even more important, hiking instills a mental, emotional and spiritual fitness that goes beyond what occurs in the gym," says Sarah Donohoe, a former hikemaster for YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, Colo.
"Being outdoors, with nature, surrounded by something much grander than ourselves, induces a sense of well-being that is every bit as important as physical strength."
That link to nature also provides limits — for those on day hikes, there are no couches, restaurants or taxis to take you back if you get tired or hungry on the trail.
Wear comfortable, sturdy boots or footgear. Hiking in new boots, before they've been broken in, is often painful. "It is compulsory that boots be broken in before being worn for a hike of any distance," says Donohoe, currently a challenge course facilitator, Johnson County Park & Recreation, Kan. "Similarly, many hikers show up to hike in sandals, and as cool and comfortable as they are when hoofing it around town, sandals are taboo on the trail, no matter how much the advertisements tell us otherwise. Sharp rocks, pointy sticks, loose pebbles and thorns simply aren't an issue when boots are covering a hiker's feet."
Temperatures and weather conditions can change with sunset and elevation. Hikers should pack warm hats, rain gear (or a poncho), gloves and clothing.
It's easy for new hikers to waste a lot of energy and time trying to learn about hiking alone. Learning with a group of peers, seeking the guidance of experienced hikers, taking a class or hiring a guide can all propel your outdoor résumé much faster than learning solely by trial and error.
Pack a map, flashlight, compass (or GPS) and hiking plan. Bringing extra food and water is essential to a good day hiking experience, even if you are not going far. Two to three liters of water per person is recommended for short day hikes. The key here is to avoid dehydration.
It's also important to put away your gadgets.
"Mental, emotional and spiritual enlightenment cannot be achieved when a jarring ring of a phone shatters the pursuit, be it the jingle in your pocket or the rap coming from the hip of a fellow hiker," Donohoe says.
"If someone simply cannot spend the day without remaining connected to their other life, I ask that they set their phones to vibrate and carry on their phone conversations out of range of the rest of the group."

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