Happy (and Healthy!) Trails to You
From exploring state park hiking paths to cycling city bike trails, opportunities abound for outdoor activities. The numerous benefits of outdoor exercise go beyond the body to touch the mind and the spirit.
“Although it’s limited in our part of the country, the time we can be out, when we get fresh air – is so refreshing for your mind and for your mood,” says Vik Chatrath, MD, Avera Medical Group orthopedic surgeon in Marshall, Minn.
Chatrath adds that in the Upper Midwest, people often are deficient in vitamin D, which is made when our skin is exposed to sunlight.
We need vitamin D to absorb calcium and keep our bones healthy. In effect, the vitamin D gained during outdoor exercise helps make our bones stronger. But hitting the trails―especially for the first time in the spring―might also cause injuries if you don’t prepare in advance. Wrist fractures, clavicle injuries, knee injuries, and more can occur when people bike without the appropriate gear.
“We see a lot of people who have fallen from their bikes. Maybe they are not wearing the appropriate gear or not paying attention. Sometimes other people don’t see them and pass too closely, and they lose balance and fall over,” says Chatrath, who himself is an avid cyclist.
To help prevent these injuries, Chatrath encourages cyclists to invest in a good bike. Also, wear a helmet, protective glasses, and wrist guards. Brightly colored clothing will help other cyclists see you, and if you are riding in the dark, have a light on your bike as well.
“Biking is a low-impact activity especially good for people with arthritis, so I prescribe it often. Outdoor exercises like biking help lubricate joints, work muscles, increase heart rate, and lower blood pressure,” says Chatrath. “Every adult should get 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise five days a week. If you can get your heart rate up, that’s great, but even a walk is better than nothing.”
Tanner White, Certified Personal Trainer and Director of the new Avera Human Performance Center in Aberdeen, S.D., offers these tips for minimizing the risk of injuries such as twisted ankles and lower back pain and getting the most out of a bike ride, walk or hike.
Before You Exercise
Get warmed up. “You really just want to get your body moving and do exercises that replicate what you will be doing during the activity,” says White. It might include a five-minute joy ride on your bicycle, squats, or lunges.
Dynamic stretches (stretches not held for too long) warm up your muscles. However, wait for more intense stretching until the end of your workout.
During Your Workout
Keep proper body mechanics in mind. White says it’s important to understand your own center of gravity. If hiking, keep your backpack weight close to your back. Engage your core. Don’t bend over or stoop, and maintain proper posture.
If you want to get more from your workout, every half mile of your hike, do 25 squats or 25 pushups.
After You Exercise
After your muscles have been warmed up during exercise is the time for static, longer stretches in which you hold the stretch for 30 seconds each.
“You are letting your body cool down, and stretching gives you a chance to increase your flexibility and mobility to lead to a better lifestyle,” says White.
Another important step after you exercise is to replenish fluids (drink water!) and other nutrients.
“The real goal is to make exercise sustainable throughout your life. While you are out there, have fun with it, get some physical activity with the proper body mechanics, and make it part of your everyday living,” says White.