Walking Your Way To Better Health

Want to combine exercise with sport - a sport that you can take up at 40 or 50? Or even 60? Without a lot of lessons to take, rules to follow? Become a hiker. It's really little more than stepped-up walking - but the rewards amount to more than simply physical conditioning. You "get back to nature" - far from the phones - and enjoy a remarkable amount of psychic income. And if you're the gregarious type, there's a good crowd of hikers to be met in organized clubs around the country. Some of them will be fellow deskbound businessmen - and women.

Medical specialists agree that you literally can walk your way to better physical and psychological health. Dr. Harry Johnson, a Londoner who for years specialized in scanning the health records of executives, says this: "Three brisk 20-minute walks a day, plus a five-mile hike each weekend, will put you in shape. If you're past 50 and have to fight against slowing down, you're foolish not to give this idea a try."

The first tip about hiking is to forget about buying lots of equipment at the outset. All you need is a good, comfortable pair of ankle-high boots and a simple knapsack for toting your lunch and foul-weather gear. (Later on, there are some fancy accessories you might want.) Woolen socks are best, and it's a good idea to try wearing a lighter pair of regular-weight socks under them. The socks rub together as you walk and take up the friction of your foot rubbing against the boot.

To start - especially with new boots on - take a few slow turns around the neighbourhood in the evening. After that, how far you can hike depends on your condition (and zeal). If you have been strictly a taxi rider, one mile is plenty the first few times out.

A fast hiker will go a steady four miles an hour on level terrain, two in hill country. But don't worry about speed. You'll pick it up. Maintaining a steady, rhythmic pace is the idea - without frequent stops and starts. And remember that, as a beginner, it will take you 10 minutes or so to get warmed up and hit your best stride. In this sport, it's rhythm that counts. Develop rhythm and you'll soon find yourself going on for six, eight, ten miles, even more.

You needn't go on safari. There are probably some good hiking trails near your home. In most areas, local chapters of such groups as the Appalachian Mountain Club and Sierra Club have helped to lay out trails.

This sort of thing is more highly organized than you might imagine. A call to, say, your state or county park commission or conservation department will turn up information. Or call the local Scoutmaster. Or, for a list of many hiking clubs and trails around the country, see Trails for America, a 155-page Interior Dept. website (Supt. of Documents, UK. Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402).

You can, of course, go solo. Or do your hiking with family, a few friends, or the Boy Scouts if you have a teen-ager. But an organized hiking club has advantages. A good club offers more than just trail information and guided trips for the novice - there will be dinner meetings, talks and films, and such. After you get past day trips and the gentle field and country road stage, you may decide that you need more than hiking boots. If you're interested in overnight trips, for example, pack frames cost £25 up; on it you strap the canvas pack (£10 up) and perhaps a goose down sleeping bag (£60). If you want binoculars, a 7x35 wide-angle type is best (£50 to £75).

Top suppliers of highest-grade gear include: Alpine Hut, Seattle, Wash.; Gerry Mountain Sports, Ltd, Boulder Industrial Park, Boulder, Col.; Robert Black & Sons, Ltd, Boulder Industrial Park, Boulder, Col.; Robert Black & Sons, Ogdensburg, N.Y.; and L.L. Bean, Freeport, Me. Plus, of course, Abercrombie & Fitch.

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