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Published: June 13, 2024

Group of hikers

Whether you walk leisurely on a park trail or hike briskly through your tree-lined neighborhood or “saunter in the mountains” as naturalist John Muir did, you’re outdoors and moving and that’s good news for both body and mind. “There’s no reason to really limit what you identify as hiking,” says Cleveland Clinic sports medicine physician Matthew Kampert. “I think anytime somebody gets out in nature and they’re moving from point A to point B and they’re getting their heart rate up, you can consider that a hike.”

 So, for simplicity’s sake we’ll call it hiking, and here’s why you should add it to your healthy living go-to list.

 Hike for your heart and your head

 Like many exercises, hiking improves circulation and makes your heart stronger. Hiking also helps lower blood pressure, control diabetes, burn calories and reduce stiffness and arthritic pain, Dr. Kampert says.

“Hiking can play a good role in bone density,” he says. “Especially if you’re wearing a backpack because then you’re actually loading the spine. If you’re walking up a hill, it’s working your quadricep muscles. But then, when you’re walking down, you’re working those same muscles just in a different way.”

Hiking is also good for your mind. Here’s why the American Hiking Society calls hiking the “ultimate nature therapy.”

 It soothes and clears the mind. “It seems the cocktail of hiking and nature is a remedy for unclogging the mind of the unnecessary and allowing us to focus on the bigger picture,” AHS says.

  • Hiking makes us more mindful by awakening our senses to all that nature offers.
  • Hiking increases happiness by releasing endorphins and inhaling fresh air.

And the stillness and solitude of being surrounded by the natural wonders of water and woods, plant and animal life can be a spiritual and uplighting experience. As John Muir says, “Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

Off the beaten track in the Buckeye State

 Hocking Hills in southwestern Ohio is home to a state park (now with a lodge) and lots of spectacular trails, long and short.

“Stunning in every season, Hocking Hills features beautiful towering cliffs, thrilling waterfalls, and deep, hemlock-shaded gorges. With stunning ice formations in winter, wildflowers adorning the forest floor in springtime and vivid foliage in the fall, hikers and nature lovers have plenty to enjoy in this awe-inspiring park,” according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

The state’s lone national park Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Northeast Ohio is also a favorite for hiking (and biking too).

“The winding Cuyahoga River gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands. Walk or ride the Towpath Trail to follow the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal,” the National Park Service explains.

Explore what else Ohio – and other states – have to offer on the hiking front by visiting the AHS interactive Hiking Project site. Trails are rated by degree of difficulty.

More than a century of hiking

The Cleveland Hiking Club began in 1919 and today has more than 1,200 members and year-round offers dozens of hikes DAILY of various lengths and degrees of difficulty. The hikes are also open to non-members.

When CHC member Richard Hazelton moved to Kendal in 2019 from nearby Shaker Heights he wanted to continue hiking without making a long commute. So he started a weekly 5-mile “moderate” hike in Oberlin that begins at Kendal’s Maple Street entrance.

Richard has hiked 3,000 miles since he joined the club 10 years ago. “I like to hike because it burns calories, it gets me out in nature and challenges me, I meet new people and it’s good for my mental health and the beauty of nature is spiritual to me,” he says.

The Oberlin hikers – last week 13 showed up - come mostly from Lorain County – so far no other Kendal resident has joined the weekly group.

About a dozen residents gather every Saturday morning for a 1.5-3 mile “walk” to a nearby Lorain County Metro Parks or Old Woman Creek in Erie County. And Kendal’s 1-mile perimeter walk is a well-traveled path.


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Author Molly Kavanaugh 2020In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.