Running on roads, bike paths, and treadmills can feel like driving on the freeway at times—with the miles ticking by uneventfully as you count down the minutes until you reach your destination. Your mind wanders to other parts of your day, and, before you know it, your workout is over and it’s time to return to your to-do list. While you’ll certainly reap the benefits of getting your heart rate up, it may not be the most mentally restful way to unwind.
A better way to maximize your run is to venture as far from streets, sidewalks, and the gym as possible. Taking your run off road and onto trails can have a tremendous impact on your physical fitness, as well as your mental health. Here are 3 ways trail running makes you happier and healthier.
1. Soft surfaces are easier on your body Running on grass or dirt trails puts less stress on your joints and muscles, which decreases your risk of developing an over-use injury. Your form is also likely to improve, further lessening the chance of injury, because trail running requires you to shorten your stride and run more on the balls of your feet to go uphill and navigate turns—it’s a much more efficient way to run compared to heel striking on pavement.
2. Trail running engages stabilizer muscles Trail running activate muscles you don’t normally use while running on straight roads. As you traverse uneven ground, you’ll trigger stabilizer muscles in your feet, legs, and core that will help build balance and agility. Road runners have a tendency to travel in a single plane of motion, which can lead to underdeveloped muscles—traveling through the twists and turns of a curvy trail is a good prescription to counteract that tendency. It can even strengthen your upper body, since trail running usually requires a bit more arm swing to get up and down hills.
3. Your brain gets a chance to recharge Numerous studies conclude being outside has a positive effect on mental health. It might take a little extra effort to spend time in nature, but the payoff is well worth the trouble. Enjoying the serenity and simple beauty of a trail can lower stress levels, making you more productive and giving you more energy. To make the most of your run, focus on your breathing and enjoy your surroundings—you can worry about all the little stuff later.
Ready to hit the trails? Remember to stay safe!
Trail running comes with a few additional risks compared to running on roads, so keep these tips in mind before heading out on your next off-road adventure.
Bring a buddy Having a friend along for your run is a great idea. If anything goes wrong, someone will be there to help.
Tell others where you’re going The peaceful solitude of a solo run is tough to beat. Just make sure to let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. If you’re driving to a trailhead, you can leave a note on your dashboard.
Be aware of your surroundings Do a little research before you hit the trail to find out what kind of animal and plant life may pose a threat. If the trail you’re on has multiple turns, you may want to draw yourself a map or at least take a mental snapshot so you don’t get lost. Don’t count on your phone’s navigation—reception can be spotty in the remote areas.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew Pick a route that you’re 100% confident you can complete. Don’t put yourself in a situation you can’t get out of by trying to tackle terrain or distances beyond your capabilities.
Gear up The right clothing can have a huge impact on your run so make sure to dress appropriately in running-specific layers depending on the conditions. And consider wearing trail running shoes, which offer increased traction on loose terrain.
Whether you’re an experienced runner or completely new to the sport, taking your run off-road will help you become a better athlete in addition to improving your mental health. Just be mindful of your surroundings and remember to have fun!