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Hiking: Relax Your Brain, Train Your Body

Raise your hand if you just love the gym! Oh, is it just me with my hand down? It’s true. I don’t like going to the gym that much and this annoying shoulder if mine has given me all the reason to cut down my gym time. So, I’ve been looking for other ways to get my exercise on.

Don’t get me wrong, the gym is great and I have no real qualms about it. I appreciate going (once I’m actually there) and I enjoy being in the presence of like minds. It’s just that it can become redundant. 

Now, I know that because of my goals I can’t avoid the gym completely. But in the mean time, I still need to be active. The Peachtree Road Race is coming up so my focus, for now, is more so on cardio and endurance instead of building muscle.

The great thing about exercise is you don’t have to be tied to the daily routine of a workout or the gym. Exercise is activity requiring physical effort, to sustain or improve health and fitness. There are many things you can do instead. I hopped on a bike for the first time in a long time last weekend. After 10 minutes of bike riding in the park my arms and legs were saying, hello! 

I’ve been reading about hiking in Georgia’s state parks for a while now and finally decided to start. Since Atlanta is literally a forest it was easy to find somewhere close and in a familiar area to get my feet wet. My first stop: Sweetwater Creek State Park. I’ve been there a few times, but never walked any of their trails. 

This place is a true hidden gem and the great thing about it is it’s right in our backyard! It’s about 15 miles from Atlanta. It’s quite popular, but only seems crowded in the parking areas. The park is named after the creek that runs through it, Sweetwater Creek. It’s rapids make for great white noise while trekking on one of its five trails (and two connector trails) ranging from easy to difficult. The trails are color coded. There are markers on trees to direct you along the path. This is nature very close to its natural state, so the trails are not paved.

I’m a fan of the series Hunger Games, so I chose the Red/ History Trail. This mile long, one-way trail leads you to the water where you’ll see the New Manchester Mill Ruins. It’s the ruins of a 19th century mill that was burned during the Civil War. It’s also from a scene in the movie, Hunger Games: Mockingjay. That’s all I’ve got for you on the building. Not really sure of any other significance. 

Alongside the ruins, though, are the whitewater rapids. You can get lost there all day. Not lost in direction, but in time. It’s so much to take in, the sights and sounds. The smell too. It doesn’t smell like the hustle and bustle of the city.

The first half mile of the trail is considered easy, but as you move downstream the terrain becomes a little rocky and filled with tree roots. You have to be in the moment, disconnected from everything else to hike the second half of trail or you may trip up. Don’t worry, the trail has plenty of places to rest and watch the water. You can even get in the water or fish, if that’s your thing. Like I said, you can really get lost in time out there. I was thinking it would take an hour max. Nope! Looked up and it was 2 hours later.

So, how does this have anything to do with exercise or fitness, right? Watching the water and enjoying time away from the daily routine, how?The first answer is easy, all the walking you’ll do. Even though the trail was a mile long, I took more steps than it would normally take to walk a mile. Also, for good pictures you’ll want to walk, hop, and balance on rocks. Yes you will, trust me. Though hiking burns fewer calories, it helps build balance, flexibility, and strength in your legs and back muscles. 

The second answer, the CDC defines physical fitness as the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies. I learned that hiking requires you to focus on moving forward while strategically choosing where you place your feet. It probably sounds difficult or dangerous, but I promise there were no dangerous cliffs. Just plenty of tree roots and rocks. It also forces you to disconnect from everything outside of the park because you’ll want to focus on your surroundings and simultaneously enjoy the scenery. It’s a break (mental and physical) from the norm that still trains your brain and your body.

Hiking Need to Knows 

Drink plenty of water in the week beforehand. In the summer wear loose, light colored clothing. In the winter go for layers. The choice is yours on the shoes. I saw a girl out there in platforms. Yep. She tried it. However, I suggest hiking boots, cross trainer sneakers, or hiking sandals. I really don’t suggest sandals but hiking sandals are actually a thing and logically they make sense. They would keep your feel cool in the summer and if you want to stick your feet in the water it would be easy. Not my thing, but people do it. 

Moving on. Bring water and a snack. Then pack EXTRA water. Wear bug spray and sun protection. Make sure your phone is fully charged (even though you may lose signal in different places along the way). Have a whistle for emergencies and a first aid kid. Most importantly tell someone not hiking with you your itinerary. Get a map of the park before you begin. Most importantly, disconnect and enjoy it. 

So that you don’t get burned out from the gym, give hiking and other outside activities a try. Make the effort to try an activity outside of your normal fitness routine at least once a month. I’d been considering hiking as many trails that Georgia State Parks has to offer and now since I’ve began,  I will continue to do it as much as possible. What are some activities you have been considering to switch up the monotony? Any you’re already doing? Follow the Facebook page, Figurin’ it Out, to join in on the discussion.


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