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Hiking is great exercise: Here are 10 places to hit the trails this fall


Candy Grande  |  Special to the Cherry Hill Courier-Post
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Turn Black Friday Green
Rather than shopping, some in South Jersey took to trails.

Dr. Jeffrey Pinto, a Virtua internal medicine physician at Medford Family Practice, and his wife Dr. Jackie Riedel, a family practice physician with Virtua, enjoy hiking together.

They recently completed a four-day back packing trip in the Grand Canyon.

“Hiking provides benefits not only to the body but helps nourish the mind,” says Pinto. “Stepping away from our busy lives, smart phone screens etc., helps reduce stress. Also, time spent in nature has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

Hiking has an array of physical and mental health benefits, and autumn's crisp air and breathtaking foliage provide the perfect incentives to give this form of exercise a try.

“Hiking is a great cardiovascular workout and, depending upon the type of trail you are on, the exercise intensity can be varied to suit your needs,” says Pinto. “In addition to being good aerobic exercise, hiking challenges your proprioception (awareness of your body in space) and develops muscles that aid in balance.”

Pinto suggests most people should try and get 30 minutes of exercise daily, however any effort to increase physical activity will result in improved health. For example, Pinto says he walks around the building before starting his day and again midday in between patients.

An experienced hiker, Pinto has some pointers for newbies.

 “If you are new to hiking, make sure you have a map or PDF printout of the trail that you will be on,” he recommends. “Let someone else know where you will be. You should always bring food and water. Protect against ticks and mosquitoes with long sleeves, pants and bug spray.”

Natalie Madanick, a holistic health coach, also enjoys walking trails for exercise. Two of her favorite in the region are Blueberry Hill in Gibbsboro and Wissahicken Park in Philadelphia. Her business, www.onewholelife.net, was founded to help others live healthy lives by addressing all aspects of their physical and mental wellness.

“Nature grounds me,” Madanick says. “Smelling the fresh air and looking at the beautiful trees and changing leaves is a huge mood booster. And, depending on the length and type of hike you choose to go on, a person can burn between 350 to 600 calories doing this exercise. Hiking lowers blood pressure, improves balance and digestion, builds the immune system, improves cognitive brain function,and reduces osteoporosis, inflammation and heart disease.”

Hiking is also a good exercise to do with family or friends, says Madanick.

“Family and friends can help you exercise and keep you in check,” she says. “Plus, it's a great way to spend time together.”

After spending a beautiful autumn day on the trails, Madanick suggests continuing the fall enjoy enjoyment with a healthy, hearty, seasonal dinner such as rosemary chicken and vegetables. See recipe below.

Dr. Steven Davis, of Davis Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery with offices in Cherry Hill, Philadelphia and Northfield, says most of his patients ask him how they can look younger, and his response is to stay active and exercise.

“The desire to age gracefully is not just about cosmetic surgery to look younger,” says Davis. “It's important that people do their part with exercise and having a healthy lifestyle to make sure their bodies and minds stay as youthful as possible.”

Hiking, says Davis, is a good way to keep active and stay in shape.

“I always feel like fall is the start of a new year, with the changing leaves and brisk weather,” he says. “Hiking now is probably at its peak. And hiking has many physical benefits and stimulates mental attitude. It is something new and exciting to enjoy in these upcoming months.”

It's also a good exercise for those who are getting older and still want to find a way to stay active.

"Some of my patients have been doing a very physical exercise regime daily, and then as they get older this regime starts to bring them discomfort,” he says. “Hiking is a good way to continue their enthusiasm of exercising without bringing them as much pain. It's also a fabulous exercise to do with friends and is much more interesting than walking a treadmill.”

National Hiking Day is on Sunday, Nov. 17 but you don't have to wait until then to try one of these great hiking destinations:

Batona Trail – Getting its name from the words “Back to Nature,” this more than 50- miles-long trail is a must to see the beauty of autumn. It takes about three days to hike the entire trail, which begins in the Brendon T. Byrne State Park and continues through Franklin Park Preserve, Wharton State Forest and Bass River State Forest. For more information, visit njparksandforests.org/parks/docs/batona14web.pdf.

Blueberry Hill Trails – This walk is short, about .07 miles, but offers more trails off the main one and beautiful views of fall foliage. Climb to the top of the hill for views of Philadelphia. Blueberry Trail is at 178 Berlin Road, Gibbsboro. southjerseytrails.org/2013/04/16/blueberry-hill-trails-gibbsboro-nj/

Cheesequake State Park – There are five different trails for hikers at this Middlesex County park, which uniquely lies in a transitional zone between two different ecosystems – salt water marshes and upland forests. The Nature Center offers wildlife historical exhibits and Native American early colonization information. For more, visit www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/cheesequake.html.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – During the fall, hike the 7.5-mile scenic trail that passes Buttermilk Falls (New Jersey's highest waterfall), Cater Lake and Hemlock Pond. This trail takes about six hours, and is located in Layton, Sussex County. The trail is open from sunrise to sunset. For more information about the Delaware Water Gap, visit https://www.nps.gov/dewa/planyourvisit/index.html

Historic Smithville Park and Smith's Woods – This 312-acre park offers different terrains, forests, meadows, streams and the 22-acre Smithville Lake. It is a treasure to visit during the fall, when the changing leaves pop with color around the trails. The Smith's Woods area offers a pavilions and picnic areas with grills, a butterfly garden, playground and restrooms. Historic Smithville Park is at 803 Smithville Road, Eastampton. For more, visit https://www.co.burlington.nj.us/948/Historic-Smithville-Park.

Hacklebarney State Park – The freshwater Black River crosses through this state park's rocky terrain, which is home to three endangered plant species – the American ginseng, leatherwood and the Virginia pennywort. Wildlife is abundant, and hikers can spot more than 100 bird species, black bears, woodchucks, deer and fox. The park is at 119 Hacklebarney Road, Long Valley. For more information, visit www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/hackle.html.

Rancocas State Park – The freshwater tidal marsh and upland and lowland hardwood forests at the Rancocas State Park give hikers ample opportunities to see a variety of birds and animals, as well as the colorful fall leaves. The park is home to the Rancocas Nature Center, where visitors can learn much about the environment and park. The park is at 794 Rancocas Road, Westampton. For more, visit  www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/rancocas.html.

Sourland Mountain Preserve – Five miles of fall foliage awaits hikers on the Ridge Trail. So does a variety of nesting birds like the Summer Tanager, Winter Wren and Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees. The preserve is at 421 East Mountain Road, Hillsborough, Somerset County. For more, visit http://www.somersetcountyparks.org/parksfacilities/sourland/sourlandmtpreserve.html

Wenonah Woods – Enjoy the crisp fall air and bright foliage while hiking the 6-mile trail at Wenonah Woods. A trail map is recommended because some trails are not clearly marked. Wenonah Woods is off of Jefferson Avenue., Wenonah. For more information,  visit www.wenonahenvironmentalcommission.org/.

Wissahicken Gorge – The Wissahicken Gorge is home to 50 miles of hiking trails,  beautiful sculptures, historic structures and Philadelphia's only remaining covered bridge. Its 1,800 acres, located in Northwest Philadelphia, has breathtaking fall foliage during the autumn months, and features steep, wooded hillsides. For more information, visit www.fow.org/visit-the-park/the-wissahickon-gorg