Getting sick of the urban jungle and the stress of work that comes with it? The sights, sounds, and scents of the urban jungle surrounding you are a fact of life and something you deal with daily, and it could be taking a toll on you. Consider ditching the city for the hills and mountains this weekend. Think of the scent of fresh air, leaves, and earth, and imagine yourself pounding your feet on the earth as you go for a run on mountain trails. It makes for a good change, and not to mention a challenge, don’t you think?
The lack of smog and pollution isn’t the only benefit of exercising on natural terrain. Running in the midst of nature actually also helps you get stronger and faster because trail running isn’t like your regular city run. Often, especially when you’re running along hiking trails, you have to walk, run, climb, and even crawl on all fours. That means muscles other than those used for regular running on the road are used and exercised as you navigate slopes, rocks, and boulders on natural terrain. And you actually have a lower risk of injuring your knee or ankle in trail running despite the rugged and unpredictable surfaces, according to research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. The reason: Each step you take on uneven terrain strengthens your legs because you don’t just go forward—you tackle upward and downward slopes and take quick lateral steps, too.
Cross training with trail running can benefit your running times, too—good news for those looking to take their exercise routine to the next level by joining runs and races. According to experts, your legs become stronger and more powerful on the trail, and when you get back on straight and even concrete roads, your body is more able to push for speed. Another benefit? According to a study at the Appalachian State University in North Carolina, you can burn up to 12 percent more calories on the trail than you would on pavement. Taking to the trails benefits your brain too—according to research at the University of Exeter in the U.K., exercising in natural environment makes you feel revitalized and significantly decreases confusion, anger, and depression.
Thinking of giving it a try? Start slow and take the right gear. Try a gently sloping terrain and take it on a brisk walk or slow jog. Remember, natural terrain means loose stones, pebbles, or ditches along the way. Go for athletic shoes that have a good grip on the sole, preferably those with lugs and grips for better traction on the floor surface. You’ll be dealing with mud and dirt, and you’ll want to remain stable as you run. Lookup accessible eco parks near your area, or dirt tracks nearby. If all else fails, plan a road trip to the nearest hiking trail the next time you need a break. It’ll work wonders for your mind and body.