Take a Hike! The Path to Cardio Fitness Is Just Around the Corner
By Amy Scanlin, M.S.
Special to The Pilot
There is nothing better than getting back to nature when the air is crisp and the leaves are at their most colorful. Miles of Sandhills greenways, park paths and a few sidewalks to boot offer tons of great opportunities to put one foot in front of the other and, with just your feet, you can link up with not only your neighbors but neighboring communities as well.
All you need are a comfy pair of shoes and your doctor's stamp of approval. So, come on. Lace up your sneakers, phone a friend and get out there. Walking is one of the best activities for your overall health.
Cardiovascular exercise is important for all ages. It gets the heart rate up, burns calories, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels and bone density. It also positively affects our mood by increasing endorphins. That's a lot of benefits!
Walking in particular is a good way to get in cardiovascular fitness because of its ease on the knees, hips, ankles, feet and back, in comparison with running and other high-impact activities. However, even with all these benefits, many are not taking full advantage.
"The big statistic is that close to 70 percent of Americans are not meeting the minimum standard of accumulating 30 minutes of activity five or more days a week," says Shelby Basinger, coordinator and -instructor for the health and fitness -science department at Sandhills Community College. "But walking is a great way to do that! You can do it anytime, anywhere and you don't need special equipment, special skills or a gym membership!"
Whether you are a seasoned walker or just starting out, there are plenty of options in the area. Some love to just walk around the neighborhood, others love to walk around a school track and still others love the peace and solitude of nature trails, of which this area has plenty.
Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve and the greenways and parks of Southern Pines and Pinehurst are just a few of the many options for stretching your legs. And, with greenway spurs throughout both Southern Pines and Pinehurst, you may find that linking to these trails is as easy as walking out your front door.
With distance lengths to suit any time availability and inclination, your path to cardio fitness is just around the corner.
Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve
Weymouth Woods hosts hikers, trail runners, cyclists and horse enthusiasts on its many trails. About 4.5 miles of trails crisscross the 456 acres of land, which white-tailed deer, fox squirrels, skinks and pine barren tree frogs, to name just a few, call home.
Some of the trails have more roots and are a little harder to traverse for those who are unsure on their feet. However, trails such as Bower's Bog and the service roads have fewer roots and are flatter. Pine Barrens Trail received improvements thanks to an Eagle Scout project that encourages visually impaired walkers to enjoy nature.
Says ranger Nancy Williamson, "The trail includes bricks laid out at intervals to encourage stopping and noticing the -differences in trail textures."
Weymouth Woods also has a great history as the first natural area in the North Carolina state parks system. When Kathryn Boyd donated the original 403 acres of land in the 1960s, she designated the area to be used as a nature preserve. This means there is very limited development on the property, and the land has been recreated to look as it did hundreds of years ago as a beautiful, longleaf pine forest.
Upon request, rangers at Weymouth Woods can even host organized groups, such as garden clubs, for a customized educational hike or walk. This is a great way to add some socializing to your walking program, which Basinger says is a real motivator.
"A great thing about walking is you can enjoy it with family and friends," she adds.
Not far from Weymouth Woods is a trail head for Fort Bragg's All American Trail, which is currently about 20 miles long and will eventually circumnavigate the entire post. Walkers, runners and bikers often use Weymouth Woods parking as close access to the trail and enjoy adding portions of All American to the many trails offered within the nature preserve.
One nice note for the All American Trail - it has mile markers!
Pinehurst Greenway and Parks
When Pinehurst's Greenway is complete, there will be 24 miles of trail linking the village and its parks. At present, about six of those miles have been completed and construction on the next mile will begin in a few months.
There are also unique walking opportunities available at Rassie Wicker Park, which offers a solid surface trail winding through a lovely tree-lined path, and the Village Arboretum, designed in the style of Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Pinehurst's village.
For something completely different, after 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday, pedestrians are invited to walk and jog along the historic horse track (as long as an event is not taking place). Measured distances are a plus at this location.
The utility and use of the greenway and parks is a favorite for Mark Wagner, director of Pinehurst Parks and Recreation Department
"Whether it's children on bikes, mothers pushing strollers or people walking dogs, there just seems to be a constant use throughout the system," Wagner says. "It's nice to provide an amenity to the public and see that it's wanted and utilized on a >year-round basis."
While walking through Pinehurst greenways, you may be curious about the "Pinehurst Walks!" signs. Wagner explains, "Pinehurst Walks was a taskforce that was created out of a Fit Community [grant] we received along with FirstHealth and Pinehurst Elementary School. > Through this cooperative effort, additional grant funds were received through the Health Department and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Project grant opportunity. > Both of these grants helped fund trail construction at a time when the village did not have any funds available in the budget.
"Pinehurst Walks does offer incentives to students who participate in the Walking School Bus program at Pinehurst Elementary School that the three organizations above started," Wagner says. "The Walking School Bus is held each Wednesday from 7 to 7:35 a.m., and parents drop their children off at Cannon Park, where there are walked to school by staff/volunteers."
Southern Pines Greenway and Parks
"It starts with parks!" says Robert Reeve, director of the town of Southern Pines Recreation and Parks Department.
Seven miles of greenway trails link Southern Pines parks, providing extensive options for moving out. Some of the parks themselves also have walking trails.
"It's an easy walking system," says Reeve of the town's greenways and parks. "It's a great way to experience our beautiful community and see a little bit of everything."
The "connectability" of Southern Pines is really striking. The vision for this system started more than 20 years ago when town council members identified areas for trails and additional parks. Whether the town already owned the land, acquired it or required developers to add to the greenway, the foresight of what could be and how it could be used is amazing.
Newly added to the agenda is the recently adopted Bicycle Transportation Plan to identify and develop additional bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly efforts in the town with a concerted effort to integrate these trails with the connectivity of the rest of the area.
Need more incentive to get out there and walk? The Southern Pines Walkways is a self-tracking distance log that encourages the enjoyment of walking through town. The distance log also lists measured distances through town. It, along with maps of the parks and greenways and their distances, can be found on the Southern Pines Recreation and Parks Department website or at the Campbell House on East Connecticut Avenue, or the Douglass Community Center on West Pennsylvania Avenue.
Now that you know some options of where to get started, it's time to learn how.
While walking doesn't require any special equipment, it is important when starting a walking program to make sure your feet are comfortable.
"The main thing I tell people is to invest in a good pair of shoes," says Jodi Heimrich, group exercise coordinator at FirstHealth Center for Health and Fitness and director of the upcoming Turkey Trot. "Good, cushioned walking shoes will be a lot more comfortable."
While not a necessary accessory, Basinger also suggests an inexpensive pedometer, which will track your steps and mileage. You can even wear it throughout the day to track the number of steps you take, not just those on your fitness walk.
"It is recommended to take a minimum of 10,000 steps a day, and the pedometer encourages you to look for more ways to walk throughout the day," she says.
You may also find encouragement for your walking program by signing up for one or more of our upcoming community walking events. The next Pinehurst walk/run is the Turkey Trot, which will be held on Nov. 20, and includes a one-mile, a 5- and 10-kilometer and a half-marathon event.
Walkers aren't just limited to the one mile event, says Heimrich.
"We also encourage walkers to join in on the 5K and 10K, and a lot of people don't realize that. It's a pretty flat course after an initial uphill."
For more information on the Turkey Trot, visit www.first health.org/ turkeytrot.
The Reindeer Fun Run takes place in Southern Pines on Dec. 4, and includes a 5K and 10K for adults and a half-mile Egg Nog Jog for kids. For more information, visit reindeerfunrun.com.
With so many great reasons and opportunities to walk, why not take a hike and enjoy fall at its most beautiful?
Amy Scanlin, M.S., is a freelance writer who specializes in fitness and medical -writing and lives in Pinehurst.
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