Hikers make their way along a winter trail. That;s good for both body and soul, it turns out.
Chances are, last New Year’s, you resolved to lose weight or exercise more. Or both.
So how’s that working out?
Not too well, if you’re like most people.
Resolutions centered on health are, annually, among the top goals people across America set for themselves as they head into the New Year. More than making more money, more than making new friends, more than learning a new skill, people want to get in shape and feel better.
But most Americans fall short of their goals.
The reasons, it seems, are many. Sometimes the goal is too vague, or it’s too ambitious, or it seems like too much of a chore.
In short, the goal seems far-fetched and the process of striving for it just doesn’t seem like any fun.
Enter the First Day Hike.
Hiking in general offers a full slate of health benefits. On the physical side it strengthens muscles and bones, improves balance, promotes heart health – lowering cholesterol and triglycerides – and helps you drop weight. On the mental side it improves mood, reduces anxiety and improves quality of life.
First Day Hikes – so-called because they are held on the first day of the year – offer all that, plus camaraderie.
Organizers held the first at the Blue Hills Reservation, a Massachusetts state park, in 1992. Other states came on board over time. State park officials took the initiative national in 2012.
Today it’s a bit of a cultural phenomenon that keeps people active outdoors, even in winter.
“It’s our way of wishing health and happiness for the coming new year,” said Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors, which promotes the events on a national scale.
“Recent research is confirming the benefits of spending just 30 minutes a week in nature, and what better way to start a new healthy habit for 2020 than taking advantage of hikes being offered in state parks across the nation. Our hope is that this event will stimulate a passion for the outdoors and a desire to explore our local treasures throughout the entire year.”
Again this year, each of the nation’s 50 state park bureaus are offering guided hikes. You can find a complete list here.
Some are led by park staff, others by volunteers. They vary in degree of difficulty, with some more challenging than others.
Pennsylvania’s state parks bureau, for example, is offering dozens upon dozens of First Day hikes.
The one at Greenwood Furnace State Park is four miles long, and includes 1,000 feet of elevation gain up a path that’s rocky and steep. By comparison, the one at Pymatuning State park is only about a mile over level terrain.
Some parks even offer more than one First Day Hike so participants can pick and choose the one best for them. There’s always a family friendly or beginner option somewhere.
And, more often than not, these hikes are more than just tromps through the woods.
In addition to guides offering information on local history, terrain and wildlife, some – weather permitting – become learn-to snowshoeing and cross country skiing events. Others offer even more.
In New York, for example, the state’s parks bureau is offering more than 75 guided hikes, of all kinds. Most include refreshments. Some even have prize giveaways.
In most places, those who register and hike get, so long as supplies last, a “First Day Hike” sticker as a momento.
Now, a First Day Hike alone won’t get you in shape.
But it’s a good start. Hiking in one often allows you to meet other hikers or even find and perhaps join a hiking club or state park friends group. That promises outdoor companionship — and resolution-sustaining camaraderie — longer term.
So this year, don’t just resolve to get in shape. Resolve to do it while having fun in the process and start hiking.
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