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If you have read any of my blogs you know that I am an avid hiker, more like a passion for it really. It is so much more than exercise for me but that is another blog. I have known for some time that the benefits of hiking are many. So, how pleased was I when I found an article on the results of recent research into the health benefits of hiking at CNN.com.
An interesting study was conducted in the Austrian Alps on hikers that showed how ascending and descending steep mountains had different effects on fats and sugars in the blood. In this study, Austrian researchers tested 45 healthy people who rarely exercised prior to the study. The study participants took 3 to 5 one hour long hikes each week. For two months, they only hiked uphill. For another two months, only down. This was accomplished through the use of a ski lift. Their diets were not changed or altered for this study. Their blood sugar and cholesterol levels were checked before the study started, after each two month segment, and they were also given tests to see how quickly and efficiently their blood removed fats and sugars after each exercise phase.
The researchers were surprised to find that hiking downhill removed blood sugars and improved glucose tolerance, while hiking uphill improved levels of triglycerides. And hiking either way lowered LDL levels (“bad” cholesterol).
While the researchers in the study thought the results were good news for diabetics: to hike downhill to improve glucose levels as they can have difficulty with aerobic exercise and may be better able to tolerate downhill hiking, very few people hike only one way up or down. I do know of hiking groups that carpool to trailheads and destinations so as to only hike up or down a particular trail, but most hikers do hike both ways.
And why not? Hiking both ways will improve glucose tolerance AND clear fats from the blood faster AND reduce LDL levels, according to the research. Hiking uphill is a concentric exercise which shortens muscles, although you can get a lovely stretch in your Achilles tendon if you keep your heel on the ground when traversing up a steep slope. Hiking downhill is eccentric muscle work, extending the muscle. There it is, that lovely balance B’s are so fond of.
It is also an exercise that all blood types can engage in. You can go as fast and as far as you care to. With the 3 blood types in my family, we have very different hiking styles/temperaments. My O son plows up the steepest slopes with joy and ease, my A son likes to stop and look at plants, rocks, and makes sure that we will stop for a snack somewhere along the way. My A husband hikes maybe 1/2 to 2/3’s up the trail and then finds a nice comfy rock to sit on and read while the rest of us go to the end of the trail. And me?, I figure I have the speed of an A with the endurance of an O. Sure, I like to look at all the wonders along the way, but let’s keep it moving, please! I think I do enjoy hiking solo most of all...
Knowing the research results has deepened my appreciation of my favorite form of exercise and how it contributes to my overall health.
I think I need to take a hike... ;-)
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