Hike Your Way to Health

October 14, 2014

Orthopaedic surgeons strongly recommend a regular exercise program to promote musculoskeletal health. An ideal exercise is one that is aerobic, strengthens the core as well as all four extremities, improves balance, is low impact, reasonably safe, and is able to be performed throughout life.

The sport of hiking fulfills all the above criteria. It is a “controlled” sport where the chance of injury is low. Hiking is classified as a “moderate dynamic loading” activity. This is in contrast to the high impact, high intensity sports such as hockey, football and basketball. There is now scientific evidence that moderate loading sports are beneficial and protective to the articular cartilage that lines all our joints. This is important because arthritis is a degenerative disease of articular cartilage. Moderate loading sports such as hiking can potentially protect joints against arthritis.

The startup costs of hiking are modest, and it can be a social (group hiking) or solitary activity. In New Hampshire we are blessed with endless hiking trails on mountains from 2000 to 6000 feet. The introductory hiker should start small and increase the intensity and duration of the hikes as he or she becomes more fit. I strongly recommend hiking with two walking poles as it broadens one’s base of support, and exercises all four extremities. The basic equipment includes sturdy boots, a comfortable daypack, inclement weather clothing, a map, compass, food and water. For a complete list of items recommended for a day hike, one should consult hiking websites such as The Appalachian Mountain Club.

The attractiveness of hiking is in its variability. By varying the length (miles), difficulty (roughness of the terrain) and steepness (elevation gain/distance) on successive outings, one can hike to get in shape, rehabilitate from an injury or maintain a desired level of fitness. As a bonus, the endpoint of a day’s outing is often a breathtaking view, a waterfall, or a mountain lake. I would recommend keeping a log of your successive hikes as you monitor your improved fitness or rehabilitation.

The following is a small sampling of progressively more demanding day hikes (Introductory 1 through 4; Moderate 5 through 8; Challenging 9 through 12):

Trail Mountain Round Trip



Gain (ft)

1. Mount Pemigewasset Trail Mount Pemigewasset 3 miles 1100
2. Barlow Trail Mount Kearsarge(South) 3.6 miles 1100
3. Andrew Brook Trail Mount Sunapee(L.Solitude) 4 miles 1100
4. Willard Trail Mount Willard 3.5 miles 1000
5. Morgan and Percival Trail Mount Morgan and Percival 5 miles 1500
6. Tecumseh Trail Tecumseh Trail 5 miles 2200
7. Welch-Dickey Trail Welch and Dickey 5 miles 1800
8. Sandwich Mountain Trail Jennings Peak 6 miles 1900
9. Airline Trail Mount Adams 9 miles 4500
10. Franconia Ridge Trail Loop Mount Lafayette, Lincoln & Haystack 8 miles 3500
11. Beaver Brook Trail Mount Moosilauke 8 miles 3100
12. Tuckerman Ravine Trail Mount Washington 8.5 miles 4250


For more trail recommendations, consult manuals like the AMC White Mountain Guide, the Falcon Series on Hiking NH, or 50 Hikes in New Hampshire by Daniel Doan.

And the next time someone snaps “Hey, why don’t you take a hike?”, say “Thanks for the good advice, I’ll do it”.