Opt Outside – Take a Hike
By Matt Flanagan, DPT
AZOPT Goodyear Physical Therapist

Exercise is good for us. We all know that, or at least we should, because it is! While there are numerous forms of exercise, there is no right way. There are guidelines, though. The American College of Sports Medicine states adults need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity, cardiovascular exercise. We can accomplish this with 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity sessions fives day per week, or 20-60 minutes of vigorous intensity, three days per week. Adults should also perform resistance strengthening two-three days per week for all major muscle groups.

So what’s a great way to meet our exercise goals? Take a hike! Walking is great for many people because it’s easy. Walking improves symptoms from osteoarthritis, improves blood flow, and improves bone strength. But walking is too easy for most people and is not the equivalent of moderate intensity.

On the other hand, hiking elevates your heart rate moderately to vigorously depending on altitude, incline grade, and surface. Further, it requires more strength to climb a small mountain (hill) than to walk to a sidewalk. Ultimately, that will burn more calories and build stronger legs. Try walking up 30 flights of stairs regularly and notice the difference in your leg strength.

Hiking has tons of other benefits as well. Better scenery, less noise, less pollution, and less cars. Another advantage to hiking is improved ankle stability, balance and coordination. If your balance needs improvement, start with easier and more groomed trails before progressing to the more rocky and uneven trails.

It is important to remember to always take plenty of water. 1 liter per hour is recommended. Ideally, have a hiking buddy in case something happens.

Here are my personal recommendations for hiking areas around our great state of Arizona with ratings.

Phoenix – West Valley

Skyline Regional Park – wide, groomed trails (i.e few big rocks)

*not likely to challenge balance for most
*easy to moderate intensity

White Tank Mountain Regional Park – baseball to basketball size rocks in some places, but usually avoidable; some very loose sand in washes

*possibly requires more careful foot placement in some places, though still not a significant balance challenge for most
*easy: little to no elevation change

Estrella Mountain Regional Park – mostly gravel type surface, though there are places with many basketball and bigger rocks that cover the trail

*some challenges to balance possible
*easy: minimal elevation gain

Outside Phoenix

Goldwater Lakes – Prescott, AZ – wide, smooth and relatively flat trail in the trees along the edge of two small lakes

*minimal to moderate challenge for balance
*easy: Prescott is at roughly a mile above sea level, but there is not much elevation change along the trail

West Fork, Sedona AZ – wide trail in most places, mostly dirt, though rocky when crossing creek several times; trail is in a canyon which stays cooler than Sedona in the summer and is mostly shaded by trees

*moderate balance challenge when crossing creek due to smooth stones which can be slippery
*easy hike with little elevation change or steps-

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ – wide trail, with multiple water stations along it. Almost entirely dirt or solid rock, with very little loose rock until closer to the river. Very little shade.

*minimal to moderate challenge for balance as long as you’re comfortable with stairs
*moderate to difficult throughout : the hardest part is the length; do less for less difficulty

Mount Humphrey’s, Flagstaff AZ – first part is dirt and relatively smooth, level surfaces, though there are tree roots. The upper part requires high stepping and occasional surface changes up to 2 feet. Cool regardless of the time of year.

*minimal to moderate challenge to balance if trail is dry while in the trees, with moderate to difficult challenges above tree line where it becomes more rocky
*moderate to difficult: this is the tallest point in Arizona; around 3000 ft of vertical change from start to summit

Enjoy the outdoors! Don’t forget to check out our blog on the 5 stretches you should perform before hiking!