Staying fit through outdoor activities
Summer is begging for us to be out and about in the fresh air and natural surroundings. No excuses as we head toward retirement or are enmeshed within it. As a matter of fact, many of our “over 50” crowd are in the best shape of their lives. Yes, okay, some are content to slow down, but many see this time as an opportunity to live a challenging and active lifestyle.
And, here we are in Western North Carolina, an area ripe with fitness opportunities and outdoor activities. Summertime brings possibilities for excellent hiking, cycling, backpacking, camping, and the myriad river activities like canoeing and kayaking.
For those who need to ease into fitness, a walk in the woods over a less strenuous route might suffice as encouragement on the way to a goal of a moderate hike up to Rattlesnake Lodge or the more aggressive one to the summit of Mount Pisgah.
If you’ve been sedentary for a while and are looking to get back into some of these summer activities, it’s best to start slowly so as not to injure yourself. Setting a regular morning routine is a great way to build up your stamina and strength. This can be as simple as doing some basic stretching exercises and walking. Getting yourself to the gym is great, but walking in nature can stimulate your mind and restore your mood. It can also help kick-start your energy.
There are three basic areas that can help you get fit and ready for outdoor activity. It’s also important to keep working on these areas as we continue to age. Depending on your current activity level, remember to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime.
Strengthening your core muscles. How many times have we heard this one? But it impacts nearly everything we do. For example, a strong core is important for posture, flexibility and balance. Also, good posture lessens the wear and tear on your spine. Think of your core as a central stairway. Any type of movement ripples up and down connecting to other “floors;” actually even impacting how well your arms and legs move.
According to the Harvard Medical School, “Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. Viewed this way, core exercises can lessen your risk of falling.” A strong, flexible core impacts nearly everything you do.
Balance maintenance. To help prevent falls, some people compensate by changing their gate. But strengthening your core and doing lower-body strength exercises can help improve your balance. Balance exercises are as simple as standing on one foot and walking heel-to-toe. Tai Chi is also a good alternative. Your muscle reflexes play a role in maintaining your balance, so a consistent routine performed several times a week is important for your maintenance program.
Restoring flexibility. Improving your flexibility will provide you with more freedom of movement. Stretching exercises will increase your flexibility, which helps you when participating in physical activities. Yoga is a great way to increase your flexibility, or there are other basic stretching exercises that you can add to your routine.
While flexibility is tied to balance, stretching will not improve your strength and endurance. It’s the combination of stretching, strength or weight training, and increasing your activity level that will help you meet your fitness goals.
Many people find it easier to exercise or participate in activities with others. For those of you with partners or spouses, encourage them to share the experience with you. For singles, it’s always a good idea to find a friend. It makes it easier if you’re meeting someone to take that walk or hike, or even to meet up at the gym. Whatever you decide, find something you like and do that, as you’ll be more apt to follow through and continue on.
It’s important to remember to use common sense when you’re learning something new or getting back into a fitness routine or activity that you haven’t participated in for awhile. For more information on staying healthy or to access some basic exercises to jump-start your routine, check out health.harvard.edu.
If you’ve maintained a certain level of fitness, and can jump right into some summer activities, there are many options available.
Western North Carolina has hundreds of hiking trails at all levels. The US Forest Service lists trails by three difficulty levels—easy, moderate and difficult—however, because of the many trails in this region, some hiking information listed online is further separated, generally at the difficulty level.
You can hike close to Asheville in places like the NC Arboretum, the Bent Creek area and the Biltmore Estate grounds (accessible by members). You can also hike on trails along the French Broad River. Trails can also be accessed close by from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
There’s a great online magazine dedicated to hiking, running and backpacking trails. You can find interactive trail maps, directions, elevation profiles, as well as detailed trail descriptions and other information. The site also includes guidance that’s important to most of us on how to Leave No Trace, what to pack for your adventure, and how to practice good trail etiquette. You can access the information at: ashevilletrails.com
If you’re interested in joining others on the trails, there are a number of hiking and outdoor clubs and organizations for your consideration.
Carolina Mountain Club. Formed in 1923, this club supports group hiking, and trail maintenance and construction. This group has also been instrumental in the planning and construction of the Mountains to Sea Trail. You can visit their website at: carolinamountainclub.com
Pisgah Hikers. This hiking group is located in Brevard in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest. With more than 100 members, groups meet in Brevard for hikes that range from three to 10 miles. Access their website at: pisgahhikers.org
Sierra Club — North Carolina Chapter. This chapter is active in conservation and preservation efforts for NC’s wild areas and trails within the National Forest, providing some of the best backcountry hiking in the southern Appalachians. As a member, you can sign up for information about organized hikes, so check out their website at: nc.sierraclub.org
For those of you who are looking for a longer hike or maybe an overnight camping trip, backpacking may be another option to a simple hike. It’s a great way to see and explore longer trails and more of the forest or mountain areas. Taking your gear along with you in your backpack is the basis for a successful trip.
For backpackers, the hiking trails selected are typically over rougher terrain and may or may not be completed in one day. Typical items to carry include food, water and other drinks, a knife, a torch, sunscreen and other first aid items. If your plan were to camp, your bedding and perhaps a tent or other shelter would be included.
River rafting is an excellent way to spend time and get out on the river. You can find calmer waters or white water, depending on your skill level and desires. Other river options include tubing, canoeing and kayaking. At some outfitters, you can also rent stand-up paddle boards (SUPs).
Asheville Outdoor Center. You can rent single or tandem kayaks as well as canoes and SUPs. You can also schedule a calm water rafting trip (maximum capacity: 8). Tubing is also offered. Shuttle service is available for everything but the tubing. AOC is located at 521 Amboy Road on the French Broad River in Asheville. Check their website at: ashevilleoutdoorcenter.com
Blue Heron Whitewater. Activities offered include the Scenic Float Trip, which is a five mile class I-II whitewater trip, half day activities that are class I-III whitewater trips, or a full day that’s class I-IV. Blue Heron is located at 35 Little Pine Road, Marshall. Check out their website at: blueheronwhitewater.com
French Broad Adventures. This group offers calm water or whitewater trips. They are located at 9800 US 25 in Marshall. Check them out at: frenchbroadrafting.com
French Broad Outfitters. Trips can be booked for inner tubing, SUPing and kayaking on the French Broad River. Check them out at 704 Riverside Dr in Asheville. Their website is: frenchbroadoutfitters.com
Nantahala Outdoor Center. At this full-service outdoors concierge center, you can book whitewater rafting and kayak instruction, in addition to guided hiking, zipline tours and mountain biking. In Asheville, NOC is located at 290 Macon Ave. Their flagship location on the Nantahala River is near Bryson City. Check them out at: noc.com
USA Raft. This company offers relaxing float trips or extreme adventure weekends. The French Broad River outpost is in Marshall NC at 13490 US Hwy 25/70. Check their website for packages and rates: usaraft.com
The beauty of the mountains and this region are calling to us. Cloaked in mystery it draws us in to experience the wonder of nature, the sun drenched waterfalls and the majesty of a sunset from a summit in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Whether hiking, biking, or spending the night under the stars, summertime beckons us to get outdoors. So get going, get some exercise and remember to preserve and protect the places that are important to all of us.