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Hike for your health

Ashley Lucas

Now that the weather is warming up, so is the drive and desire to enjoy it. If you are working to drop those extra pounds, spring is the perfect time to get outside and move your body. What better way to do this than to go for a hike?

Benefits of hiking

Getting exercise is not just a way to burn extra calories, but a great way to move lymph in the body. The lymphatic system is the natural waste system of the body. As the only body system without its own pump, it requires movement to push out toxins. This not only keeps you from getting sick, but also aids in weight loss. It’s recommended to get at least a 30-minute walk a day when trying to drop weight for this reason.

When you hike, you are not just moving lymph, but getting many other great benefits to support weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Hiking supports your metabolism by building muscle; muscle is your metabolic currency – that marker of longevity. As you traverse up and down hills, you engage your core, hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads. Carrying a pack will also engage the muscles in your back and promote quicker muscle gains. As a bonus, hiking also improves bone density by strengthening bone tissue.

While improving your physical health, hiking also has many benefits for your mental health as well. A study from the National Academy of Science showed that “people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.” Hiking has also been shown to improve blood flow to the brain. The increased blood carries oxygen and other vital nutrients to the region of the brain responsible for memory cognitive function, improving connections between neurons.

With so many benefits, getting out on the trails seems like an obvious choice. But before going out for a hike, you will want to be sure you are properly prepared. While having the right gear will be important, eating the right foods will be equally important to support you as you explore the wilderness.

Eating for a hike

First, you will want to be sure you stay hydrated. It’s a good idea to get plenty of water and electrolytes. Before embarking on your hike, go ahead and have a serving of electrolytes to prepare your body for the trek. You will want to bring a few single packets of electrolytes with you to drink while out on the trail. Electrolytes contain important minerals, such as magnesium, that not only keep you hydrated, but prevent muscle cramping and help you to stay energized. It’s important to not confuse electrolytes with sports drinks. No need for Gatorade or the like. Simple, no-sugar electrolytes will do the trick. I enjoy brands like Ultima or RNAreset.

Next, you will want to pack foods that are easy to prepare and light in your pack. For protein sources, try packing items such as canned or “bagged” tuna or sardines, hard boiled eggs or deli meat. Beef jerky and other dried meats are also great choices. Cut up some vegetables such as celery, red and green peppers and cucumbers for your carbohydrates during your meals. Some other lightweight, and easy to pack foods that will be great for an afternoon snack include grain-free granolas and low-carb protein bars. Be sure to include healthy fats such as bagged olives, avocado or hard cheeses to pair with your meals.

(Pro tip: Pairing protein and fats with your carbohydrates helps to blunt the spike in your blood sugar and will keep you satiated for longer).

For sustained energy, you will want to stay away from foods heavy in simple carbohydrates and sugars. Some examples of foods to avoid are high-glycemic fruits such as bananas, fruit snacks, high-carb protein bars, popcorn, breads and crackers. You will also want to avoid sugary drinks such as sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices.

So, this spring jump-start your weight loss journey by taking a hike. With all of the amazing benefits, you’ll be glad you did.

Happy Trails!

Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.