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Why Trail Walking and Running Are Good for You

Trail walking and running are excellent cardiovascular and muscle-building workouts – with some added bonuses. Hitting the trails not only improves fitness levels, but provides other benefits for your body, mind and mood.

The activity offers the same fat-burning intensity of interval training, coupled with interesting scenery and varied terrain. The different surfaces and inclines you'll encounter on a trail help you improve balance. Softer surfaces underfoot also alleviate some of the stress your body endures when walking or running on harder surfaces.

Not only will your body benefit from trail walking or running, but getting away from the sights, sounds and demands of the day and replacing them with the beauty of nature can wash away stress and help you relax. A 2015 study at Stanford University showed that walking in nature decreased worry, anxiety and other negative thoughts among participants.

Here are some helpful tips to follow if you're new to trail walking or running:

  • Choose the right trail. Select trails that are appropriate for your fitness level. Start with flat surfaces that are not rocky or riddled with roots until you feel comfortable. Then you can start exploring different surfaces and inclines — hilly, dirt, grass, etc — for a more varied workout. 
  • Fuel up properly. Eat a small healthy meal or snack before you head out for a hike or trail run, but don't overdo it or you'll feel like you're dragging. Bring along healthy snacks and enough water to get you through your hike. You don't want to be left out in the woods running on empty.
  • Vary your intensity. Over time, gradually increase your pace, incline or distance for a more challenging cardiovascular workout. Or include intervals of faster and slower intensity. Just be sure to increase intensity slowly so you don't overdo it.
  • Listen to your body. It's important to pay attention to signals your body sends so you can avoid injuries. If you start to feel pain or something doesn't feel right, slow down or take a break until you feel better.

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Date Last Reviewed: April 13, 2018
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Andrew P. Overman, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS
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