Combining the physical and mental benefits of a day hike with controlled calorie intake can make hiking an effective tool in your weight loss plan. Discover why hiking can help you lose weight and apply some of these tips to enhance the benefits.
The Benefit of Lower Intensity, Longer Duration Exercise
It was once believed that low to moderate intensity exercise was the most effective for weight loss due to the body’s reliance on fat for energy, often called the fat burning zone. However, current research suggests that total calories burned is a more important factor. When done for the same amount of time, more calories are burned during high intensity activities versus low intensity activities.
The long duration of hiking makes it effective for weight loss. It’s intensity level allows you to hike for hours, sometimes a full day, blasting hundreds of calories (480 calories per hour for a 150-pound female). Lower intensity, longer duration activities may also improve blood cholesterol levels and improve insulin function. A Dutch study found that when the same number of calories are burned, low intensity activity done throughout the day (walking, standing) may be more effective than short, intense activity at improving blood cholesterol and insulin levels.
The Impact of Nature on Health Behaviors
Research shows that exercising in nature can reduce feelings of depression and increase self-esteem. If weight loss is your goal, not only do these benefits give you the mental boost necessary to stick to your plan, but being surrounded by nature can influence your behaviors. Each day you are bombarded with triggers that lead to emotional eating whether it is a stressful encounter or a food commercial on television. Removing yourself from your current environment can help you recognize and control these triggers. The focus and mindfulness you gain can be applied when you return from the hike to further control emotional eating.
Watch Out for Energy Dense Snacks
Adults weighing 150 to 200 pounds can burn 1,900 to 2,500 calories on a four hour hike. The problem is that this high level of calorie burn often results in increased hunger to refuel hardworking muscles. For this reason, typical hiking snacks like energy bars and trail mix are packed with calories. They can help you replenish energy without needing to carry large amounts of food. If you want to lose weight, it’s important not to eat back all of the calories you’ve worked so hard to burn. Focus on a combination of snacks that supply complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and healthy fat that will keep you full with fewer calories. Jerky, dry cereal, vegetables with hummus, fruit with nut butter, and string cheese sticks are good choices that will stay fresh in a small insulated lunch bag for day hikes.
Try Adding Extra Gear
Hiking with a pack requires you to work harder causing an increase in calories burned. A 150-pound person hiking with a 21-42 pound pack burns about 80 more calories per hour than when hiking without a pack. Trekking poles may also be an effective alternative to boost the benefits of a hike. Results of a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that adding trekking poles to your hike can increase calories burned without causing a noticeable change in the difficulty of the activity.
Athletic shoes support proper alignment and cushion impact during activity helping to protect against injury. Your shoes should be replaced every 350 to 550 miles, or every three to six months. If you perform a specific type of exercise two to three times a week, buy a sport-specific shoe. Cross trainers are ideal if you do a wide variety of activities, but consider walking shoes, running shoes, or hiking boots if your workouts are more focused. (See Athletic Shoes: A Buyer’s Guide)
Make rest days a priority
Research shows that exercising more than 250 minutes per week results in clinically significant weight loss, but you shouldn’t skip rest days to meet that goal. The body uses rest days to recover and repair itself, which results in improved fitness. Skip rest days and you put yourself at risk for overuse injuries. Use one to two days per week to rest completely or enjoy leisure activities like a slow walk after dinner or working in the garden.
Get proper guidance
Using proper exercise form can reduce risk of injury and make your workouts more effective. Don’t jump into a new program without some guidance. Ask for instruction on how to use weight machines and use mirrors to evaluate your form. Seek alternatives for exercises that aggravate problems like knee or lower back pain. Safely executing your exercises will protect you from unnecessary injuries that can slow your progress.
Balance your training
Muscle strength imbalances occur when one muscle group gets more training than an opposing or supporting muscle group. Over time these imbalances in strength can lead to injuries. For example, runners often have hamstring weakness that leads to muscle strains. Also, overworking the abdominals without including lower back exercises may result in back pain. Choose a variety of exercises that give attention to all muscle groups. Don’t completely skip an exercise if you’ve come to dislike it. Seek out an alternative that will adequately strengthen the same muscle.
Engaging in the same activities over and over can improve your exercise performance, but it’s important to add variety to your routine. Activities that require repetitive movements (running, swimming) can lead to overuse injuries, such as shin splints and tendinitis. Cross training is a simple way to incorporate new movements while continuing to build your fitness level. If you are training for an event, such as road race, that requires you to engage in a repetitive activity, try adding high-intensity interval training (HIIT), hiking, group exercise classes, or water sports to reduce risk of injury.
Maintaining flexibility reduces injury by allowing the joints to move through a full range of motion. Flexibility training does not have to be restricted to stretching before and after an exercise session. In fact, research reviews have concluded that there is not significant evidence to support that stretching before or after your workout will decrease injury risk during that workout. What is important is incorporating flexibility training into your overall program. For some, this is easily done with full body stretches after a workout, but others may choose activities such as yoga, Pilates or martial arts to increase joint flexibility and to reduce exercise injury.
When gaining strength and improving fitness, it is not uncommon to hit a plateau. Don’t let it discourage you. Here are a few ways to break through and continue making progress.
Switch To Circuits
If you use a traditional style of weight lifting with strength moves followed by rest periods, your body may have adapted to this type of training. Incorporate weight lifting circuits into your routine and create a challenging pace for your workout. Choose eight to ten exercises that work major muscle groups. Perform one set of the first exercise and then move quickly to the next without resting. Continue this until you have completed the circuit, and then repeat one to two more times. Circuits increase heart rate and exhaust the muscles giving them the challenge they need to grow stronger.
Lift Heavier Weights
Despite research showing that women will not bulk up by using heavy weights, many still shy away from grabbing heavier dumbbells. Muscles must be challenged with more weight to grow stronger. As you grow more fit, light dumbbells aren’t enough to give muscles the challenge they need. Your last two to three repetitions of the exercise should be difficult to complete. If not, grab a heavier set of weights.
Take a Break from Weights
Exercises using your body weight can be equally as effective as those that use free weights and machines. These exercises incorporate functional movements that strengthen the muscles you use during daily activities like sitting, lifting objects, and climbing stairs. Planks, wall-sits, jumping lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups will build strength by changing the way your muscles are worked.
Restructure Your Routine
It’s easy to get into a rut with strength workouts -- training legs on Monday and Wednesday or chest on Tuesday and Thursday. Simply switching the order of your exercises or your pattern of training can push you past a plateau. Try full body training three days per week or split a longer workout into a shorter morning and evening workout.
Monitor Your Protein Intake
Protein is essential for building muscle. Some sources include beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, milks, fish, and poultry. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that strength-trained and endurance athletes get 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. That’s 75 to 120 grams for a 150-pound person. For most people, protein recommendations can be met through food without investing in costly supplements. For example, one cup of plain Greek yogurt contains 20 grams of protein, a 4-ounce chicken breast has 35 grams, one half-cup black beans has 6 grams, and 3 ounces of wild salmon has about 20 grams for total of 81 grams of protein.
Boost Your Effort
If your current program is only two or three weeks old, don’t assume you’ve hit a plateau. It takes time to see results and most fitness experts recommend sticking with it for at least four weeks. How quickly you progress depends on your fitness level and how hard you are working. Increase your effort by adding repetitions and sets or by safely moving through the exercises at a faster pace. After four weeks, consider making more significant changes to your program.
Flexible muscles and joints allow you to move more easily without pain and stiffness. Everything from daily activities to intense workouts are made easier by improving flexibility. Make this important fitness component a priority by taking time to stretch every day. Hold these stretches for at least 20 seconds and perform each two to three times.
Full Body Reach and Bend
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Extend your arms straight overhead. Reach your hands to the sky and hold. Lean towards the right, bending slightly at the waist. Hold the stretch here so that you feel it from your left arm, down your side to your left hip. Return to center, lean to the left and hold again.
Lunging Quadriceps Stretch
Step into a lunge position with right foot forward and your right knee bent at 90 degrees. Slowly lower the left knee towards the floor (your heel should lift off the ground). Hold when you feel a stretch through the front of your left thigh and hip. Repeat on the other side.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step your right foot about two feet out in front of you. Keep both legs straight and bend forward at the waist. Reach towards your right foot until you feel a stretch in the hamstring of your right leg. Deepen the stretch by lifting your right toes off the ground and bending your left knee as you sit back slightly. Hold the stretch and repeat on the other side.
Chest and Shoulder Stretch
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Reach both arms behind you and clasp your hands behind your lower back. (If you cannot clasp your hands, simply reach both arms back.) Gently raise your arms into the air only to the point where you feel a deep stretch in your chest and hold.
Lying Hip Stretch
Lie on your back on the floor with your arms at your side, your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bring your right knee in towards your chest. Rest your right ankle on your left knee. Grasp the back of your left thigh and gently pull the leg towards you, lifting the left foot off the ground. Hold when you feel a stretch in your right hip. Repeat on the other side.
Extended Child's Pose
Position yourself on your hands and knees. Sit your bottom on your heels as you bring your forehead down to rest on the floor. Reach your hands in front of you with your arms along the ground. Hold the stretch.
Everyone has encountered exercisers who seem to think they are the only ones at the gym. While you can’t control the behavior of others, you can do your best to follow gym etiquette rules and set a good example. Over time, your politeness and consideration may rub off on others.
You might think that slipping into a group exercise class late is harmless, but it can disrupt both the instructor and fellow members. Missing the warm-up and any special instruction at the start of class can also put you at risk for injury. Out of respect for everyone in the class, arrive 5 minutes early for a safe and effective workout.
Clean up after yourself
Putting weights away and wiping down machines should not be left to gym employees. A dumbbell in the walkway could easily trip someone, and leaving sweat on equipment is inconsiderate. Re-rack weights in the appropriate spots and use the complimentary spray bottles to disinfect the equipment.
Know the rules
Pay attention to posted rules and ask the staff questions about what is and isn’t appropriate. Some gyms prohibit members from joining a class late for safety reasons and many have time limits for cardio machines to ensure everyone has a chance to exercise.
There is nothing worse than a person who hoards the 10 pound dumbbells for 30 minutes while they rotate through their exercises. Speak up and ask to take turns with equipment. Offer to do the same if you see someone eyeing the items you’re using.
Loud conversations, talking on a cell phones, and banging weights creates an unpleasant atmosphere for everyone around you. Speak quietly, take your phone calls outside, and keep the grunting and banging to a minimum.
Skip the body sprays
Activity can heighten sense of smell making even the faintest spray of cologne or perfume unbearable. Avoid applying sprays and scented lotions several hours before a workout. If you store workout clothes in the locker room for multiple uses, be sure you stay aware of when that stinky shirt needs to hit the laundry basket.
Watch where you rest
When you take a break after a set or stop to send a text, move out of the way of other exercisers. Don’t take up valuable mirror space or sit on a workout bench. If you are deep in conversation with the person on the cardio machine next to you, step off your machine to continue your talk once your session is complete and allow someone else to get started.