Do you ever worry that your hiking lifestyle tearing you down instead of building you up? It’s pretty common, especially for outdoor athletes like mountaineers, backpackers, and ultra runners (which is probably you, if you’re reading this blog!).
Sometimes we work so hard to balance training with our jobs, relationships and everyday lives that we totally lose focus on our health and well-being.
We grind our way through each day’s workout plan forgetting that the whole point of an outdoor lifestyle is to feel happy, empowered, and energized.
If you’ve been there, I totally feel you.
When I was training for Mount Rainier, I was working out six days a week. I should have been in the best shape of my life. But instead I was also super stressed out, working three jobs, eating like crap, and drinking too much wine. Far from being in amazing shape, I was a total cluster f*ck of cortisol, fatigue, and inflammation! This was definitely NOT what I wanted to get out of my Mount Rainier experience.
By working to reconnect my mind and body, I’ve been able to really enjoy training and being outdoors again. It’s become my source of joy, energy, and strength.
It took some work to get there. But if this redneck girl can do it, you can too.
To get you started, here are 10 daily health tips to nourish your mind, body and spirit as a hiker.
1. Do a body scan.
If you’re like most fitness wonks, you know a lot of shit. (Emphasis on shit.)
You’re sure that you should do 70 minutes of cardio in zone 3, drink 11 glasses of water a day, lift high-rep and low-resistance, and drown your food in turmeric.
That’s what the books and the experts say. But what’s your body saying?
Your body is very wise — and it never, ever lies.
If you are getting something wrong in your training, nutrition, self-care, or health habits, your body will tell you loud and clear!
But are you listening?
The best way to tune into your body’s wisdom is through a head-to-toe body scan.
To do this — even if you’re not remotely woo-woo — set a timer for 5 minutes. Then spend a moment noticing and feeling into each part of your body, starting at your head and moving down to your toes.
Notice things like:
- Joint and muscle pain
- Gut health and comfort
- Skin health (irritation, itching, blisters)
- Breathing (is it deep or shallow and tense?)
Once you go through your whole body, finish by noticing:
- Your overall energy level
- Mood and emotions
Sometimes nothing will come. That’s OK. Tuning into your body takes practice!
But often, you will notice little signals that you need to make a change.
If you notice discomfort, don’t rush to judge or diagnosis. Instead, be curious. Ask yourself, “Hey, what’s that all about?”
The answer might mean resting more, improving your lifting form, trimming your toenails, working out at a different time of day, or changing your socks halfway through the hike.
Really, it’s amazing what your body will tell you when you listen.
2. Eat nourishing, high-quality food.
Here’s the truth.
Whether your diet is keto, paleo, Whole 30, or 100 percent intuitive matters way less than the quality of the food.
And when I say “high-quality,” I don’t mean a $12 canister of fair-trade cacao nibs from Whole Foods!
I’m just talking about simple, nutrient-rich food that energize your mind and body. Things like:
- Fruits and veggies
- Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats)
- Raw nuts
- Processed foods with 5 or fewer ingredients
Here’s another truth: there’s no one right diet for everyone.
What’s more, your fuel needs may change depending on your activities. For example, on big hike days, you may need some fast carbs.
The best way to know what to eat is to notice how food makes you feel.
Check in with your body an hour after a meal or snack. Which foods make you feel calm, strong, energetic, expansive, and satisfied?
And what ones leave you anxious, inflamed, grumpy, and craving more?
3. Hydrate mindfully.
Always maintain a state of just-right hydration. Signs you may need more water include:
- Brightly colored urine
- Brain fog
- Excessive hunger between meals
If you notice any of these throughout your day, pause and tune into your body. You will probably realize you’re actually a bit thirsty!
In general, you can forget any rule that says you need to drink X glasses of water a day.
Always let thirst tell you when to drink and how much.
(An exception to this is after a big workout or a workout in hot or difficult conditions. In this case, you may need to drink some extra water to replace lost fluids. But still, take it slow and do it over a number of hours.)
During long workouts (over 1 hour), it’s important to add electrolytes to your water. But in your daily life, there’s no need for fancy, expensive energy drinks. Many contain sugar or caffeine that can actually interfere with your body’s natural signals.
So stick with pure, plain water. If that turns you off or bores you, try adding fruit slices to your water for some extra zing.
4. Clean and store your gear.
Do you come home from a hike, throw your backpack on the floor, and ignore it until you trip over it three days later and fall on your face?
Is your living room floor a minefield of discarded boots, packs, rain pants, and other hiking crap?
I get it. It’s easy to be a Pig Pen when you’re tired from hiking!
But taking care of your hiking gear is good for your headspace, your health, and your bank account.
Some good habits to form:
- Create a gear organization system that minimizes clutter in your home.
- Take wet or soiled gear out of your pack right away. Dry it before storing it.
- Clean hydration bladders and water bottles thoroughly with warm water and dry them before storing.
- Rinse or wipe down hiking boots with water. Use a boot brush to remove extra grit from fabric and seams. Remove the insoles and dry your hiking boots before storing them.
- Take off sweaty clothes and socks and rinse them out (instead of just tossing them in the hamper).
Another thing to try: be a gear minimalist.
If you have gear that doesn’t bring you joy or that you rarely use, don’t force it to live sadly in your closet. Give it away or sell it.
Finally, use cleaning time to appreciate your hiking gear and all the hard work it does. Do a Marie Kondo and thank it for taking care of you.
5. Let your hair down.
Have you ever heard of traction alopecia? If you have very coarse or textured hair, you’re totally rolling your eyes right now like, duh.
For the rest of us, it’s hair loss related to tight hairstyles or headwear that put pressure on the hair follicles.
I mention it because a lot of outdoor athletes spend days on end wearing their hair in ponytails or holding it back with hats or headbands. Over time, this can lead to hair loss and thinning in both men and women — especially around the hairline.
Traction alopecia can affect you at any age. But it’s more common as you get older and your hair follicles weaken.
The best way to keep your hair healthy is to give it a break from ponytails, tight braids, hats, and headbands.
Let it be down and free whenever you aren’t exercising. If you really must put it back on a hot day, keep your braid or ponytail loose.
Also, realize that your hiking hair needs special care! It’s already under stress, so minimize bleaching, dying, perms, and treatments.
6. Follow a back health routine.
Almost everyone struggles with low back pain at some time. And while there’s some evidence that active people experience less low back pain, they’re definitely not immune!
Even if your back feels great now, your risk of back pain increases with age. (So pretty much every day.) That’s why it’s important to establish good back health habits early as possible.
And it’s especially important to take care of your back if you’re carrying heavy loads (as backpackers and mountaineers often do).
In addition to using proper form during heavy lifting and strength training, here are some functional exercises that can promote back health. Do a set of each of these daily to keep your spine, core muscles, and nerves healthy and mobile!
Thoracic Extension and Rotation (great to do at work!)
Have you ever been agonizing over a problem — and the answer came to you when you stepped out of your everyday life to hike?
Brain science totally supports this! Novelty (being in a new situation) helps your brain form new neural pathways.
That’s why getting outside is great for problem solving and creativity.
(So is going on vacation, but it’s a lot more expensive.)
Often after a hike, you’ll come home with a brain full of inspiration, insights, and ideas. But within a day, you forget them all!
The best way to prevent this is spend 10 minutes a day journaling. Write down the thoughts in your brain without judgement. Then take a look at them and decide which ones you want to put back in.
If you keep journaling every day, you may find that you are still pulling great insights out of yourself days after the hike!
Journaling is also a great place to write down questions that you want your brain to work on during the next hike.
The cool thing is, you don’t have to work at it. Just ask yourself the question at the beginning of the hike and see what shakes out.
Even if the answer doesn’t come to you on top of the mountain, you may be able to tease it out later during your journaling.
8. Check your toenails.
Hikers’ feet take a beating like no other feet! They’re wet, cold, hot, cramped, and exhausted — sometimes all in the same hike.
So pay special attention to them during your body scan. Check the heel, arch, and each of the toes for irritation and discomfort.
One of the best things you can do to care for your feet is to keep your toenails properly clipped.
Long toenails can cause microtrauma to your nail beds if they rub against your boot.
They can also cut your other toes. Friction and pressure can even cause long nails to crack.
In this video, a podiatrist shows your the right way to cut toenails to keep them healthy and prevent ingrown toenails.
Need some heavy-duty toenail cutters for those thick hiker nails? Grab them on Amazon.
9. Go to bed early.
Do you wake up to an alarm every morning? Not only can this make you groggy and grumpy, it can keep your body from making gains in training.
Each workout you do — whether strength or cardio — stresses your body and makes it weaker. It’s during rest that your body repairs the damage and becomes stronger than before. This process is called the “training effect,” and it’s crucial for every athlete to understand!
The healing part of the training effect requires certain hormones — notably testosterone and human growth hormone. These hormones are secreted during sleep. Specifically, they flow during the second half of your sleep cycle.
So to get the best results from training, it’s important to wake up naturally!
(It’s a lot better for your mood, too.)
The best way to ensure you wake up naturally is to go to bed early. If you have trouble falling asleep, try wearing blue-light blocking glasses in the evening. They help your body align with the natural cycles of night and day by blocking artificial light that convinces you it’s “daylight” all the time.
Are you ready to live a healthy outdoor lifestyle?
Start today with this FREE beginner workout plan! These fun walking workouts will help you make outdoor exercise a daily habit. Just fill out the form below, and I’ll send it on over.
There you have them. My nine best daily health tips for hikers!
Do you have additional health tips for hikers? Comment below to share.
Originally published July 25, 2019.