First For Women
News! Trail walking blasts 82% more fat
Women are losing 8 pounds every week. The side effects? Less stress, sharper thinking and sunnier moods. No wonder hiking is earning raves from top MDs and A-list trainers alike
Hollywood beauties like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Andie MacDowell may have access to the best trainers in the world, but you won’t find them sweating it out at the gym. A-listers have uncovered an easier way to get slim and sculpted: trail walking. “When I was a little girl, my mother would say, ‘We’re going on a nature walk.’ And I would recoil because I hated doing that kind of thing. Now I love it,” Julia has said. “What’s great about hiking is that it’s physically challenging and there’s something meditative about it. There’s something about the ritual of moving forward along a trail. It’s a physical escape as well as a mental one.”
Top doctors swear by hiking to shed pounds too. Take GeorgeWashington University–trained weight-loss specialist Jamé Heskett, M.D., for example: After gaining 60 pounds during her third pregnancy, the 42-year-old physician needed a fast way to lose the weight while juggling childcare and her flourishing practice. “We had just moved, and there was a small trail along the river by my new house,” shares Dr. Heskett. “I started walking on that trail with the baby in a BabyBjörn and I loved it. Every weekend, the kids and I would spend the day hiking. Before my littlest was a year old, most of the weight had fallen off.”
Hiking works double duty to amp up calorie burn. “On the trails, you’re going to encounter small and big rocks and large and small changes in elevation that you have to navigate,” explains Dr. Heskett. “These subtle changes recruit small, stabilizing muscles that you don’t use as much as you get older, but that can have a major effect on fat burning.” Studies show this extra muscle activity can help hikers burn 82 percent more calories compared with strolling on flat ground. Even better: As effective as hitting the trails is, Dr. Heskett points out that hiking feels easier than walking on asphalt or concrete. That’s because the softness of the dirt cushions joints, lessening the impact that causes pain.
Hiking also triggers biochemical changes that keep fat burning revved long after a stroll. Japanese researchers found that exposure to greenery has a calming effect that can dial down the output of the stress hormone cortisol by 16 percent in 15 minutes. Why that’s key for slimming: When cortisol levels are high (as they are in 90 percent of women over 40), it shifts the body into distress mode, signaling cells to start storing fat—especially in the belly.
“But when you lower cortisol, your body knows that it doesn’t need to hold on to fat as a survival mechanism,” says Dr. Heskett. “So it begins to melt away, starting with your midsection.” Indeed, researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City found this stress-reducing effect helped trail walkers lose 9 times more weight and 30 percent more belly fat than those who opted for traditional cardio.
The benefits go beyond melting a menopot. “Being in nature tells the brain that we are in our natural state, so mood will improve and energy will increase,” promises Dr. Heskett. Women FIRST spoke to report melting up to 8 pounds a week, plus experiencing perks like deeper sleep and improved confidence!