How can I use Hiking as Exercise?

Cartoon of me writing down GOALS

This question popped up in my head a few months ago, while feeling desperate with my own exhaustion and my painful legs. The gym was closed due to a Covid-19 lockdown, and I was literally out of breath in 2 minutes. I didn’t even make it to the grocery store, let alone the beach – which is located a 20-minute walk from my house. Hiking beautiful and long nature paths felt way out of reach.

But what if I would use walking as my exercise to become fit again?

I decided to create a Training Plan focused on Hiking.

Easier said than done! I had to do some emotional and mental groundwork, before I could accept that ‘hiking’ in my case was temporarily reduced to a very slow walk around the block.

But that’s exactly where I started my schedule: I counted steps and minutes while I walked up and down my street (the block was too big to tackle at first…) and took that as my point zero. I took 350 steps in 5 minutes time, while having a hard time admitting to myself in what bad shape I really was.

Why was I so tired? Read it in the About Kadanza section of this website!

My first Goal was doubling both Time and Steps…

And I made a big mistake right away. I was so shocked by my point zero measurement, that on my second day I pushed myself into a 15-minute walk. After that ‘accomplishment’ I ended up in bed in the middle of the afternoon with nausea and severe leg pains. Not a clever move, not at all. I was unable to walk even for 5 minutes for the 2 following days.

Lesson learned. It is OK to set goals and strive to be better, but you have to respect your own boundaries and the feedback your body gives you, Kadanza!

I learned to let my Body set the Pace, not my Brain.

There were days with fantastic progress, other ones on which I thought I was back to square one. Dragging one painful, swollen foot in front of the other, sweating like a pig, feeling quite discouraged.

When complaining to my Love on these ‘square one days’, he always pointed out how far I had come in a short time, how much progress I had made in just a few weeks. He was very supportive, while I was kind of beating myself up.

Funny, isn’t it, how we tend to criticize ourselves but motivate each other?!?

In several trainings in health care, there was an emphasis on breaking up the ultimate long-term goal into smaller, easily attainable goals, to keep your spirit up and keep going, instead of giving up.

Most of the time I am the first to cheer for others, to see their improvements. But for myself… I just had a hard time, accepting that I wasn’t able to do a day of hiking in nature yet! But the time had come to practice what I had learned in theory, and be happy with small victories:

Celebrate Progress, and enjoy the Journey to my Goal!

My former hiking days in the Portuguese mountains, in the Himalaya or even in the hills of Belgium and Germany, they once again come into my reach  while I keep on working on doubling my steps and walking time.

During November there were plenty of ‘10.000-steps-days’ celebrations in my walking-log, even an occasional 12.000-steps-day. My pace and stamina improved a lot, I already lost some weight and last but not least, I made it back to the beach!

This still isn’t hiking by my old definition, I would call it a pleasant beach stroll in the past. But in my new exercise plan, this sure counts as a hike!

I am tired but satisfied when I come home, though not so energy drained that I end up in bed. It actually feels like coming back from the gym – I vaguely seem to remember that feeling from years ago… 😉

Practical Steps of my Exercise Plan :

So, what do I actually do on a daily basis, to get my vitality back? This isn’t ” yoohooooo I walked for 5 minutes today, let’s celebrate with chocolate and call it a day” of course!

I made up some ‘rules’ for myself and am surprisingly focused and committed to these,  this time.
I guess my present discipline comes from being really fed up with my lack of energy in the past year.

Things HAD to change. I had to change. No more excuses. Enough is enough. I didn’t recognize my own life nor my own mood anymore.

This is what I came up with to improve my health:

  • At least 5 out of 7 days a week, I will walk for a minimum of 30 minutes, at a pace that makes it difficult for me to have a conversation. (When I started my training, this number was increasing in small portions, from 7 to 10 to 12 to 15 to 20 minutes at a time)
  • If possible, I set a new record daily, in steps taken and / or time walking. Some days the improvement is big, other days it is tiny. I will treat it like a win, no matter what. A 100 steps more than yesterday is a record too. The same amount of steps in a shorter time frame also counts as an improvement.
  • If I have a bad day, I will push myself to take a walk anyway. But 30 minutes is enough on those days, no pushing in distance, pace or time then. If there is anything I’ve learned in this past year, it is that taking time to rest and recover is equally important as the actual training time.
  • I do not allow myself to talk myself down with negative comments, but I am surrounding myself with motivation and accountability. I plan beach strolls or neighborhood walks with friends. Telling them about my plans and my weekly improvements, I praise myself lucky with lovely cheerleaders on my walk back to health!

That’s all. It turned out to be surprisingly simple to work on my health by hiking!

If you would like to make your own personalised plan to improve your health by walking, check out this great blogpost chock full of tips and research of my friend Hannie, who even included a graded activity after being injured schedule (free to download, no sign in required): Walking for Health Benefits that will Reward You Immediately

As extra motivation, there is my wish list with short hikes – I am currently working towards the first one, hoping to be fit enough in 2 weeks time to walk for 3 hours.

Next summer I plan to be up for a 4-day walk in the Portuguese mountains again. For this particular goal, losing weight is a priority, so that will be the next thing I focus on. I keep you posted!

In the meantime, if you have questions or tips for me, feel free to comment on this post, or send me a DM.

Happy hiking, everyone 🙂

6 thoughts on “How can I use Hiking as Exercise?”

  1. Marvellous, Kadanza, I am so happy for you that you are back on track. I envy you, living so close to the sea. (I know, totally unjustified, as I live close to the mountains, but I love the beach!)

    Walking is so good for our health and can be done up to a high age. It’s so stupid that all these lockdowns prevent people from sporting and moving.

    The first 3 months of our lockdown here in Spain we weren’t allowed out of our property. Which for me wasn’t too bad because I could walk in my garden (and did) but was a disaster for my grandkids that were locked into an apartment building. Crazy.

    Have you heard of ‘graded activity’? It’s a way to safely move back to your old level. If you want, I can give you the scheme. 🙂

    • Hi Hannie, I hear you, these severe lockdown rules, preventing people to go outside did more harm than good, in my opinion. I can understand social distancing etc, but come on, playing outside or hiking in nature isn’t dangerous!

      I am certainly interested in your graded activity scheme, wonderful that you are willing to share that with me! Who knows, maybe I will update this post in the future, or write another one about your fantastic schedule 😉

      Thanks a lot!

  2. Hello Kadanza. These are great accomplishments. I see you have a strong will and it is very important. Many people would give up after pain and exhaustion. Actually walking is the best exercise. You use all your body, so it keeps you fit and healthy and also you are making your legs stronger. And the biggest advantage of walking over a gym is that you are outside in the fresh air. To be honest I prefer to do any exercise activity outside, rather than inside. Wishing you all the best and a lot of power and strength for more and more walks. 


    • Hi Nat, thank you so much for your kind comments and wishes! 

      I totally agree with you, walking in the gym gets boring very easily!  A hike in nature is different every time, even if I walk the same path to the beach. The light, the clouds, the seasons, they make for a new experience.  I have to admit though, when hiking in pooring rain I do sometimes long for the gym  😀

  3. I am a trainer and I always advice my clients to try going for hikes. I believe that it is a form of exercise, especially for people who don’t like running. I also like to go for hikes once every month so thank you for this article. I will be sure to share it with friends and family 

    • Thanks for your kind comments Daniel, much appreciated. 

      No running for me, at least while I am still overweight. But I never was a big fan of running, even in my fitter days. Hiking yes, dancing myself in a sweat, oh yes. Running, not so much. 

      Imagine my happiness when science told us that hiking was just as beneficial to our health as running 😉


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