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Simply Fit, by Cindy Haskin-Popp, will help you make physical activity a part of everyday life. The health benefits of regular exercise and overall daily physical activity will be discussed. Fun, practical and easy-to-follow tips on an exercise program will be shared, as will the most current research. Fitness tips for families and seniors, on fitness centers and on buying proper and affordable equipment will be regularly given. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hike the Path to Better Health

The North Country Trail - Kalkaska County, Michigan.

Trail Head to National Huron Forest - National City, Michigan

Whether you choose to trek the trails of your local community park or follow nature's corridors in the backcountry, hiking is a great way to improve your health. From weight loss to improving your aerobic capacity, trekking will help you meet your fitness goals. The mere "nature" of the sport offers a total body workout, improving your muscular coordination, strength, balance, and stability as you navigate the varying terrains and changes in elevation on your path.

Mental health benefits can be reaped as well as you travel nature's obstacle course. Trekking through grassy fields and over babbling brooks into the woodlands is a great way to relieve your stress and to get refreshed. Choose to wander the forests and wetlands in solitude or with the family. Either way, your inner spirit will be invigorated.

To ensure that your hiking experience is both fun and safe, Svea Gordon, sales associate at Nordic Sports in East Tawas, Michigan recommends the following:

  • Good pair of hiking shoes/boots - the style you choose should match your activity. For hikes on well-maintained or smooth terrain paths, "day hikers" would be suitable. These lightweight hiking shoes are cut low at the ankle and have a footbed that offers more flexibility than boots designed for more rugged terrain. If you will be tackling a tougher trail that consists of rocky, uneven terrain, then you will want more ankle support (to prevent rolling) than what the day hiker will provide. A hiking boot that is cut high to protect the ankles and that has a stiff shank (footbed) will be sturdier and provide you with better support on the more challenging trails.
  • Day/backpack - this is needed to carry your supplies. Like the hiking shoes/boots, the pack you choose will depend on your activity. Pack manufacturers number the bags. The bigger the number, the larger the pack, and the longer the hiking trip for which they are intended. If you will be going on a one-day outing, a daypack, which is small, should be all that you need. Backpacks designed for overnight excursions have straps to fasten tents and other equipment needed for extended trekking expeditions.
  • Hydration system - this is essential to prevent dehydration. For short hikes, this can be as simple as carrying a water bottle (many have tops that are designed to be clipped onto your backpack with a carabiner for ease of transportation). Longer, overnight treks require carrying some type of a water filtration system. Mechanisms by which the hiker can purify creek and river water run the gamut in sophistication from iodine and chlorine dioxide tablets that chemically remove harmful organisms to hand and gravity pumps that physically trap the particles in filters.
  • Food/energy source - the type/form of food items chosen is also based on the length of your trek. For day hikes, snacks in the form of commercial sport/granola bars and protein shakes or homemade trail mixes and dried or fresh fruit and vegetables should be enough to keep you going. Weekend and/or weeklong treks require you to bring along nourishment for mealtimes. Packing dry food that you can add boiling water to later will be lighter to transport and will take up less space in your backpack. For both short and long hikes, bringing along commercially prepared gel shots to provide immediate energy is a good idea, as is stashing a few single packs of dry sports drink mix that can be added to your water to replace electrolytes lost through sweat.
  • Maps/compass/navigation systems - these items decrease your chances of getting lost in the wilderness. Although modern technology is great, you never know when the batteries will fail or when a signal will be lost. Therefore, always carry a waterproof map of the area in which you will be hiking. Or, carry your map in a waterproof bag.
  • First aid kit - kits vary in items but should at least contain gloves, anti-septic wipes, adhesive bandages, gauze pads, tweezers, scissors, anti-acids, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine.
  • Sunscreen/bugspray - these will protect you from the elements
  • Whistle - it is essential that everyone going on a hike carry a whistle in the event you get lost in the woods or a member of the trekking party gets separated from the group.
Other items to consider bringing on your outing include a pocket knife, waterproof matches, flashlight, extra batteries, a watch, and a cell phone. Overnight excursions will require camping gear such as tents, sleeping bags, a portable stove and fuel, "mess" kits, plastic bags for storing left over food, and trash bags. Dressing appropriately for the weather is always important. Dress in layers so that clothes can be removed and added as needed.

Trekking poles are another good item to bring along for either a short or extended hike. Hiking poles aid in maintaining your balance as you navigate uneven terrain. They also absorb the shock placed on your body (especially in your arms) and they decrease the strain placed on your back and legs as you trek up and down hills. Some poles are adjustable and can be collapsed to attach to your backpack when not in use.

The extent to which you invest in gear and equipment is dependent upon the length of your trek. Your safety is of the utmost importance. Wearing appropriate clothes, socks, and footwear will protect you from illness and injury. Always make sure you have a means to get "clean" water and food to refuel while out on your hike. Plan ahead. Check the weather reports to avoid getting stuck in bad weather. Let someone know where you will be going and when you plan on returning. Ensure you have a means by which to alert others if there is an emergency or if you get lost (such as a whistle and cell phone). Following the above tips will increase your chances of a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.

For more information about hiking, backpacking, and camping or to purchase related items, contact the Nordic Sports store in East Tawas, Michigan at (989) 362-2001 or

Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.

Svea Gordon, sales associate at Nordic Sports, 218 West Bay Street, East Tawas, Michigan 48730 (owner Gary Nelkie);

Water Filtration Systems -

Hiking Shoes/Boots -

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