Most runners know that solid hydration, good music and the right mindset equal painless miles beneath the sneakers. Doing the preliminary stretches and preparing for a run always carries with it some level of anticipation. There really is a freedom to it and an odd combination of reflection and reprieve from the troubles of daily life. It’s as if each stride creates enough emotional distance to allow people to sort through challenges. The physical and psychological benefits of all forms of running are widely documented.
On the physical side, you’re talking greater cardiovascular health, better muscular strength, increased bone density and lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
On the psychological side is reduced stress levels, which helps boost memory. Running also reduces depression and anxiety.
But ask any runner and they’ll tell you there is a marked difference between running on a treadmill versus running outside in the city versus running on a trail in the woods. It never hurts to switch things up, particularly when the option of running in nature is on the table.
Trail running stands alone—and for good reason.
Expect the unexpected
Trail running means mixed terrain: hills and dips, mud, rocks, gravel, dirt. This diversity means you will remain mentally engaged as your brain susses out your best footing. It also means building more muscle, according to a recent article in Runner’s World.
Changing terrain means changing gait patterns
The same old jog on the same city streets means that you go into autopilot mode: the legs and feet function the same way and, according to the Runner’s World article, each foot strike on the road means that the same muscles are striking the surfaces over and over again. A change in terrain means a slight variation in gait and where the foot strikes with each stride, which can help protect runners from injury by placing less pressure on the same muscles and joints. Further, the uneven terrain means more calories burned and greater weight loss.
The mental health benefits are impressive
The article also notes findings that runners actually live longer and simply doing nature-based activities automatically reduces stress. It gets even more interesting: 90 minutes in nature is proven to break people out of “negative thought spirals” or reduce rumination. The same amount of exercise in an urban area doesn’t have the same effect, per research published in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article.
The beauty of nature around Ancaster and Toronto should be embraced
Nature has a calming and healing influence on the brain. Engaging in physical activity within nature seems to amplify that effect and it’s something runners can enjoy if they find some trail running shoes and the right area to trail run.
The nearly 3-mile Ancaster Creek and Radial Trail is always a good option for runners in the Hamilton area who want an introduction to running in nature. The 4.7 mile Moore Park Ravine to David Balfour Park Loop near Toronto is stunning and a particularly special treat when the leaves are changing.