Benefits of Hiking and Outdoor Activities Multiply in the Winter

by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Services Coordinator, Prescott Parks and Recreation

Fewer hours of sunlight and overall cooler temperatures may tempt one to take their exercise regimen indoors during the winter months. However, Prescott’s relatively mild climate allows for year-round outdoor recreation opportunities that attract many residents and visitors to the area.

Combined with the Prescott National Forest, over 550 miles of multiuse nature trails are easily accessed essentially from our backyards. Diverse geologically, in this area — literally within minutes of a short drive — one could find themselves among the unprecedented views of the Granite Dells or under the towers of Ponderosa Pine tree canopies characteristic to Goldwater Lake.

When the winter doldrums start to creep in, try combating them by hitting the trails. In addition to the well-known benefits of exercise such as improved mental well-being, keeping your winter workouts outdoors is even more beneficial.

For one, the body works harder to maintain homeostasis, or stability in regulating body temperature, which burns more calories. In addition, studies conducted on athletes indicate the winter season has a negative effect on vitamin D production. Just 15 minutes of sun exposure can be effective in stimulating the body’s natural production of the good stuff, and supplements can be added if recommended by your physician. Maintaining adequate vitamin D is also important to bone density levels, which are also enhanced through physical activities such as hiking.

Perhaps the best incentive for keeping your exercise outdoors in winter is that exercising in cooler temperatures actually stimulates the immune system. Similar to the struggle to maintain homeostasis, the immune system becomes better conditioned by being out of its comfort zone, much like how exercise in general conditions the body by stressing it.

For folks looking to reconnect with nature but perhaps are mobility challenged, the Japanese practice of forest bathing, or “shinrin-yoku,” is an option. This practice does not require exercise-related movement and encourages participants to observe the natural environment through each of the five senses. By connecting through each of the senses, the gap between humans and the natural world can disappear.

Hiking is an appealing way to spend time in the outdoors, not only because of all the benefits already mentioned, but it can be done relatively inexpensively. Make a quick visit to any outfitter store and staff will likely set you up with the bare essentials to get you started. Layering clothing is smart as you start moving around and the sun warms things up, as it may be most comfortable to shed layers and then add them back if necessary.

Some local recommendations for winter hikes include the Greenways, Constellation, Peavine and Pioneer Park trails. These are well-established, reasonably exposed areas but still require users to exercise proper etiquette, especially in adverse weather conditions.

A great way to get started with a hiking group is to join the Trekabout Walking Club, a collaboration between the Yavapai County Health Department, the Highlands Center for Natural History and the City of Prescott Recreation Services Department. Guided hikes are for one hour on Tuesdays and two hours on Thursdays each week. For more information on City of Prescott trails or Trekabout, visit www.prescott-az.gov.