Mind and body

Floridians don't need hills to know thrills of hiking

Would you like a cool way to raise your metabolism? Take up hiking.

Summer in Florida is too hot and humid for long walks in the woods. But we're now coming into the best season of the year to explore the state's many nature trails.

We know that regular exercise increases the body's calorie-burning capacity. We also know that adding muscle increases metabolism, and hiking can do just that. Plus, hiking is a great distraction from eating.

Hiking is a wonderful addition to your kit of healthy tools, even if it's a seasonal one. After all, the best weight managers are those that rely on many tools rather than a select few.

Doing the same activity day in and day out can get monotonous, dampening motivation. In addition, the body is so smart that once it gets used to a certain action, it can do it with less effort and, therefore, fewer calories burned. So mixing up different challenges to the body encourages it to be a fat burning machine.

Some of the fittest people I've seen are hikers. And if you're looking for something you can do into your old age, hiking may be the ticket. I'm always impressed when I see an older couple enjoying the outdoors together. Not only are they usually thin, but they also have great posture and walk with the quickness of much younger people.

Hiking also is a great stress reducer, and we can all use some of that. It's also a wonderful way to do some birding and general wildlife watching. In just one hike less than 10 miles from our house, my husband and I spotted fox, deer, an owl, and a variety of perching and water birds. I also tested my knowledge of native Florida plants.

Hiking may be one of the healthiest ways to multitask. We can thoroughly enjoy the great outdoors, notice the details about the environment, have a conversation with our hiking partner, take deep relaxing breaths, laugh, maneuver the changing landscape, and burn calories. How terrific is that?

Florida may not have mountains, but it has plenty of variety when it comes to natural settings. And hiking trails provide a view of the real Florida. Our state is known for excellent birding opportunities. Beach lovers can enjoy hikes like the one on Caledesi Island State Park in Dunedin.

You don't need much equipment — although it's always important to take plenty of water, and to be sure you know where you're going.

So if you feel ready for some interesting and exhilarating hiking experiences that will also help with your weight goals, explore the following links:

• Sierraclub.org: The Sierra Club was started by the famed conservationist John Muir. Its motto includes "to explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth." Hiking is only one of the many activities you can learn about on this site.

• Floridatrail.org: The Florida Trail Association's site describes opportunities for lots of hiking. The association helps maintain and protect the Florida National Scenic Trail, 1,300 miles between the Everglades and the Florida Panhandle. You can do as much or as little of the trail as you wish.

• Floridahikes.com: On this site you can search for hikes by region, get advice on how to plan a hike, and find detailed descriptions of each trek.

• Meetup.com: Meetup is a great online tool for finding out about hiking happenings near you. Most Florida Trail Association chapters and the Sierra Club now use Meetup to spread the word about hiking events.

Hikers come in just about all fitness levels. Some enjoy strenuous, long hikes through difficult environments, while others prefer simpler, shorter and easier trails. You can decide what type of hiker you want to be. And once you become a hiker, if anyone tells you to "take a hike," you'll just smile.

Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at drrod@fatmatters.com.

Floridians don't need hills to know thrills of hiking 10/30/13 [Last modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 2:27pm]

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