In a Post-Quarantine World,
Nature is the New Gym
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
Yet when COVID hit, the fitness fanatic was forced to stop his gym workouts. Confined to the house, he tried things like push-ups and resistance bands but it wasn’t quite the same. Desperate for exercise, Meyer began exploring nearby hiking trails.
As he frequented them more and more, a funny thing happened: He discovered he loved it. Not only that, it was a better form of exercise than he’d imagined.
“(My hiking partner and I) keep up a fast enough pace to sweat a lot,” he said. “It’s a better workout than I got in the gym.”
“I struggled to maintain consistency from home,” the Birmingham resident said. “It's important for me as a scuba diver to keep a good level of fitness. I tried bodyweight sessions from home but ultimately, I started getting out in nature and walking.”
Similarly to Meyer, she found that she liked hiking more than she ever would have thought. Soon, what began as simple strolls in nature became a broader passion for the outdoors.
“I've always loved being out in nature but I didn't realize how little I was making an effort to visit amazing outdoor spots,” she said. “My perspective has changed. Since coming out of lockdown, I have visited mountain peaks, wild swimming locations, and walked 25 miles in less than 12 hours at three mountain peaks."
“This is now my main form of exercise. Although I revisit the gym from time to time, it's no longer the same with the stringent measures and face masks.”
The gym no longer holds the same appeal, she said, with such strict social distancing measures in place. Working out in masks is no fun and there are long waits for the machines. Instead of returning to the gym, Woodroffe has developed a four-point workout plan for the coming year that integrates hiking, running, scuba diving, and cold-water swimming.
“The lockdown really altered my mindset and I now think of the gym in a different capacity,” she said. “Why stay in a building to exercise?”
“Not having a gym to go to has made me remember there are other ways to get a workout that don’t involve being cooped up inside,” he said.
It also lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, ultimately reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Hiking downhill, he explained, is actually effective at decreasing blood sugars and increasing your tolerance for glucose. Hiking also strengthens your heart, he added.
“Hiking is a great aerobic activity and when done at a moderate or high intensity, it will make your heart stronger, allowing it to increase its blood flow (and) oxygen output,” he said. “It will also decrease the chance of heart disease, making you experience overall healthy benefits to your lifestyle.”
“The increase in altitude also puts you into a state of oxygen deprivation, which has a direct effect on your metabolism,” he added.
Hickey said that when the lockdown began, he started taking his clients outside for workouts. After a bit of trial and error, he found that hiking was the most effective solution.
“When the gyms closed, I realized that a large part of my clients didn’t have any workout equipment at home so I started to try and figure out ways to safely work out with a group of people,” he said. “Hiking trails ended up being the best form of exercise due to the changes in elevation, footing, and types of ground. Not to mention the scenery made it fun and enjoyable."
Woodroffe said she’s experienced similar benefits.
“It's certainly hard work,” she said. “(But) the great thing about hiking is that you set the difficulty beforehand. I sometimes go to easy spots that simply burn calories and make for a beautiful day. Other times I walk 18 to 25 miles up three mountain peaks.
“I sweat and my heart races during the harder hikes—it's no easy feat.”
However, she has noticed tangible benefits.
“My resting heart rate has improved since regularly hiking and I still do some high-intensity exercises,” she said. “I've noticed that walking has helped me maintain a great level of fitness. Plus, it's more of a steady-state cardio, allowing you to really push on, in everything you do.”
“Hiking allows me to keep my sanity,” Woodroffe said. “I can rationalize my thoughts and day-to-day stresses. I also love the fresh air, smell of the greenery, and the sound of the wind through the trees. Many of my hikes are in locations with beautiful views too. There's nothing more rewarding than seeing all of your hard work at the top of a mountain.”
Meyer said that there are also benefits you don’t get in a gym.
“Constantly having to plan which machine or weights to do around the other people working out, it is hard to turn my brain off,” he said. “There was a zen to (outdoor workouts) that I never found in the gym. Just letting my mind turn off and stop thinking too much. In addition to the improvement in heart rate and lung capacity. I can now storm right up hills that used to make me pause and wheeze.
- Grab your hiking workout (screenshot the exercise plan above)
- Buy hiking shoes (trust us, you’re gonna need something with good tread)
- Get trekking poles (adding hiking poles can engage additional muscles and boost your workout to the next level)
- Make sure to pack the essentials (Check out our list of 10 hiking essentials)
- Select a trail (try to find one with some elevation gain)
- Pick a date (give yourself ample time to complete your hike)
- Go hiking!