WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Tips for a Healthy Hike

This blog post was written by Ben Smart and is published as part of our blog exchange with Tar Heel Tone-Up.

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Sedona, Arizona

Fresh air, breathtaking views, and space to explore – these are just a few of the tangible reasons to enjoy an outdoor hike. Engaging your mind and body with a short excursion could also yield health benefits extending beyond physical exercise. Research with nearly 2,000 participants in England found that walking outdoors in a group delivered a significant mood boost as well as lower perceived stress and depression, especially for those experiencing stress from a traumatic life event.

Before lacing up your boots and heading to the trail, take the time to pack and prepare the right way. We’ve compiled a few tips to make your next hike the healthiest to date.

Let’s start with your pack. If your filled backpack weighs more than a few pounds, it’s a good idea to select an ergonomic pack with waist strap capabilities, which will take the bulk of the weight off of your back and distribute it to your torso. When wearing the backpack, adjust the shoulder straps first so that the backpack fits comfortably on your shoulders, and then fasten the waist strap.

Now that your backpack is up to par, let’s examine the contents. Take everything out of your backpack and lay in on a table. Are you bringing any unnecessary items? Think twice before packing the second tube of toothpaste or the heavy binoculars. Ensure that you’ve packed a conservative first aid kit, and one or two plastic bags; these can really come in handy.

The most important part (and my favorite aspect) of hiking is food and hydration. Fill a stainless steel bottle (or two) full of water for the trek. Metal is preferred over plastic, as many plastic bottles can leach small amount of toxic BPA or other chemicals into your water, which means you’ll be drinking those chemicals.

As for snacks, aim for balanced portions. If you’re only hiking 1-3 miles, high protein and low carbohydrate food can be sufficient fuel. Three ideas:

  • Turkey sandwich with spinach and cheese, accompanied with a side of almonds
  • Tuna and high-fiber crackers, completed with an apple and peanut butter
  • Salmon and a whole grain tortilla, topped off with a banana and cheese

Once you’re hiking, remember to make smart choices. Take your trash to go, don’t litter. Watch your step, and adopt a wide stance when scaling steep trails. Finally, look up from the cell phone and enjoy the view! If you keep your eyes peeled, you’re sure to find some wildlife.

Ready to take a weekend hike? Check out UNC Campus Recreation’s outdoor expedition schedule here for events this summer.

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A Quick Getaway: Hiking the George Mitchell Nature Preserve

Refreshing air, the smell of pine trees, and the company of thousands of trees. Today, I spent my Monday afternoon hiking through the George Mitchell Nature Preserve. With a backpack on back and smile on my face, I enjoyed the chance to break away from the daily craziness and be active in nature. The United States is known for its commitment to preserving the forests and nature, and the town I live in is no exception. The George Mitchell Nature Preserve in The Woodlands, TX is a forested land area outfitted with 2, 3, and 5-mile trail loops. There, you can hike, bike, or run through the various trails. I chose a brisk walk – to get my heart rate up while still feeling relaxed.
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The first thing that I noticed as the hike began was the silence – the utter lack of cars, sirens, and civilization. Even though the preserve is located near a road, the trees serve as excellent sound cushions. The peace was broken only by the sounds of birds chirping and the occasional conversation of passersby. I have a long history of backpacking and hiking growing up, so I had the gear I needed for this short trek.
I chose the REI flash pack for this mini-excursion – it’s lightweight, water resistant, and has tons of great storage space. Inside, I made sure to pack my rain gear (top and bottom), first aid kit (you can never be too prepared!), and snacks. Trail mix, dried fruit, and a full water bottle were plenty to get me through the trails. After hiking 2.5 miles – halfway through the loop – I took a short break to eat. The trails were clear and the sun was shining – perfect conditions for a trek. The rest of the hike finished without a hitch, except for a single mosquito bite. I guess bug spray isn’t impermeable!
You don’t have to travel all the way to Texas to get your own taste of a great nature trail. Check out the article “The Top 10 Hiking Spots in the United States” and see if the perfect adventure is nearby. Still can’t get enough of the great outdoors? UNC Campus Recreation offers several outdoor excursions every year during the academic semester through the Carolina Outdoor Recreation Center (OEC). You can also check out our Get Outside! blog post with 22 North Carolina outdoor destinations.
Are you a first year student arriving at Carolina next year? WAFFYS – Wilderness Adventures for First Year Students – are the perfect ice breaker for you. Learn more about these small-group outdoor programs to help first –year college students adjust to college life by clicking the link.​