Harvard Heart Letter

Take a hike!

Hiking isn't just a good cardiovascular workout. It may also enhance your strength and balance while lowering your stress.

Image: Tomwang112/ iStock

Autumn can be a great time to spend time in the great outdoors after summer's heat, humidity, and bugs have dwindled away. Hitting the trail in a local forest or other natural area may also offer some heart-related benefits that go beyond your typical neighborhood walk.

"The nice thing about hiking is that it exists along an entire continuum, from a gentle walk on a flat wooded path to mountain climbing," says Dr. Aaron L. Baggish, associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Nearly everyone, regardless of age or athletic ability, can find a hike that offers the right level of personal challenge. And hiking may even offer some unique physical and mental benefits, Dr. Baggish says.

Finding trials near you

Looking for hiking venues? Local, state, and national parks are a good place to start.

American Trails (www.americantrails.org) is a national nonprofit organization that supports local, regional, and long-distance trails for hiking and other uses; check the "Trails" tab to search by state to find hikes in your area.

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