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Reader Tip: How we’re making exercise fun without spending a lot of money

Suzy from emailed in the following tip:

My husband and I have been on a quest to get healthier. But when it comes to exercise, joining a gym or exercise program often costs money.

We wanted to be healthy but do it in an inexpensive and fun way. That is where hiking came in.

The benefits of hiking are many: improved muscular fitness, lower risk of high cholesterol, reduced depression, and better quality sleep, among others. Getting outdoors and away from the television and visiting with nature is truly a mood lifter, and the best thing of all is that it is totally free.

But how could we make it interesting enough that the whole family would want to get involved? I went to the local bookstore and discovered that there was a whole section of books on local trails to hike. Most of the books not only included trail maps, but local information, restroom locations and areas to picnic.

I chose one for the Atlanta area that included 60 hikes, and thought, why don’t we make it a challenge to complete every hike in the book? I cut out scraps of paper and wrote the numbers one to sixty on them and put them in a jar.

My family’s challenge each week is to draw a number from that jar and do that hike on the weekend. It’s always fun to choose and then get to discover where we are hiking each week! Not only have we found a fun way to get great exercise, but we have learned a whole lot about the area that we live in. -Suzy

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29 Comments

  • Lori in NC says:

    Inspiring post! Go for it!

  • Sara says:

    We have the same book for the St.Louis area. It has some great hikes!

    • says:

      The Chubb (two b’s or one?) trail is my favorite STL hike – take 44 past Lone Elk. It connects with Lone Elk and is across the river from Castlewood. 🙂

  • says:

    I love this. Thanks!

  • Sarah says:

    One of my favorite ways to exercise! Depending on where and how long you hike, buy good shoes and socks. And don’t forget to take precautions for ticks for you and your pet if you take them along. Suggestions based off experience. 🙂

  • Jay says:

    Even cheaper – our local library is a great source of hiking books for our area. The only disadvantage is you can’t tear out the pages for just the hike you’re on; you have to take the whole book! There are also fantastic free websites out there with hike info, terrain maps, and reviews – Hiking Upward is a great one for Virginia, and we’ve always been able to find others covering the areas where we have travelled in recent years.

  • says:

    LOVE the idea of hiking all the trails in the book! Gonna steal that one!

  • Jess Chapman says:

    I’ve got one for Colorado that focuses on kid friendly hikes, it’s wonderful!

  • Jen says:

    We add Geocaching adventures to our hikes.

  • Jamie says:

    Love that idea about drawing a number! Sounds like a lot of fun.

    Has gas cost played into any of your trips? We live in a small town, not terribly close to anything and sometimes we have to decide if a trip is worth using the extra gas money even if the trip itself won’t cost us anything. I don’t remember having to make that decision 8yrs ago when my kids were babies!

  • Andrea says:

    Hiking is a great activity for people of all ages and abilities, but it isn’t free, unless you’ve already got a good pair of sneakers/boots and don’t count the cost of gas. Sunscreen, rain gear, a wide-brimmed hat, a walking stick for steeper trails, fly spray…it all adds up!

    Many of the places we’ve hiked require admission fee, too–typically the day fee at a state or national park.

  • veronica says:

    we add letterboxing to our hiking. you can check it out on atlasquest.org and letterboxing.org

  • says:

    Fun times! 🙂 I quit the gym to make exercise more productive and fun.

    Lately I have been “foraging” on my hikes and have made all sorts of food and even shampoo from what I have found – it is a lot more exciting than when I used to set the treadmill on “Nature Trail”. 🙂

    Great post!

  • says:

    That sounds like such a great idea. My 5 year old really loves hiking and nature. I would love to incorporate a local bug book for him. He is obsessed with bugs. I may have a future entomologist on my hands! I will have to check the forrest service around us for trails. Although I think that it may be a bit hot where I am right now for hiking. It may be better to wait until fall.

  • Tami says:

    We have been going geocaching in town to get out of the house and get exercise. There are a lot of caches at parks as well so it would be great to add into a day of hiking. We all have so much fun looking for the caches. For those looking to stay in town because of gas prices, we have found this to be a great option that the whole family (36, 32, 10, 8 &3; my Mom loves it too!) enjoys. You can find more info at geocaching.com

  • Wendy says:

    @Andrea: I think this post is more than getting exercise by hiking. It is more than, it just being “free” exercise instead of paying high gym costs. I think of it as inspiration to “think outside the box” and find frugal ways to add to your life. Saving is a wonderful thing and having a smaller”footprint” on the earth is great too! At the end of the day, what we all want it to live as happily as we can. So if hiking in your area is too costly and would cost you stress prepairing for a hiking day with your family,then maybe there is woods near by, or a lake/river/ocean, or even a community park(free). Maybe right outside your house is a lovely back yard to explore or do yoga on? City walking has alot of great places to get exercise too. I love to balance on curbs(away from traffic) with the kids and stairs are everywhere!
    Bug spray , sunblock and all that does cost but medical bills from lack of exercise is way more and besides coupons help for those items too. Much cheaper(way healthier) to get the family outside, slathered in sunblock , with a picnic lunch and a whole world to explore than to buy movie tickets and dinner out. Even staying home running up phone bills,using tons of electricity and grazing all day is way more costly.

  • Karen says:

    Is the photo of Pickett’s Mill Historic Site. I worked there for eight years in the nineties. It brings back good memories, and I still like nothing better than a good hike in the woods.

  • Susan says:

    On a similar note, we have a great greenbelt in our city that is very long. Runs from one end to the other. We set a goal this year to walk the whole thing, one section at a time. I downloaded a map, and we highlight the sections we’ve completed. We’re really enjoying it.

    Yes there is the cost of gas to get to/from, but I consider that to be nothing compared to all the other things we could be doing. it takes more gas to go to the mall! And things like sturdy walking shoes and sunscreen — we need those items anyway.

    Great post.

  • Jessica H says:

    My husband and I did a lot of hiking when we were dating. It was such a great time to talk and get some exercise. Other couples said that you don’t know someone until you marry them. It wasn’t true in our case because we had such great quality time together that there were no surprises!

  • Jenn says:

    Love this idea but please use precautions, especially if you hike alone. There are predators who look for opportunities on hiking trails and I know of someone personally who was assaulted and killed while on a trail in the Atlanta area a few years ago.

  • says:

    We love to hike with our kids too. My Mom found a great, harly used back carrier for our little one at a yard sale and DS (4) is just getting to the point where he can walk about a mile without being carried.

    We live in Virginia and have found many great loops at local Cival War battlefields. We got a National Parks Pass, which has paid for itself by now. We also do urban hikes in Old Town or Downtown DC. I’ve put some miles on our double stroller! Things just look different when you see them on foot rather than through a car window.

    Great post!

    • Nancy says:

      Jillian,
      What kind of backpack carrier do you recommend? I would love to get one so our family could get out in the woods again. My baby is 24 lbs, too big for a Baby Bjorn, but just 13 months old.
      Thanks,
      Nancy

      • says:

        I’m not sure what kind we have, sorry. It doesn’t have a name on it and my mom got it at a yard sale. I’ve seen sturdy looking packs at Babies R Us if you have one of those near by. I’m sure REI or someplace has them too, but probably for a lot more $$$. We used this carrier with DS until he was about 3 1/2 then he got too big and now DD is using it. So, even if I had to buy one new it would have gotten plenty of use that I would have felt it was worth it.

        The thing I like about ours is that it has plenty of pockets.

  • Kristine says:

    Suzy said she and her whole family hike together.

  • Kathy says:

    We have the Nashville book 🙂 My 7-year-old daughter and I are doing one hike a month till we’re through the book in about 5 years. Love it and love hiking!

  • Amy f;) says:

    This is great…and the pulling one hike out of the jar would really help us to make the decision and get going, instead of wavering back and forth about what adventure we want to do that day and wasting time.

  • says:

    I so wish we could do this, but there aren’t many hiking opportunties in Texas.

    Dreaming of Colorado…

  • says:

    LOVE this! I love to hike and now that my kids are a bit older, we have been doing a bit more of it. I also have a hiking book for our state (picked up at our half priced book store), and I will definitely be implementing your challenge for our family! Sometimes we’ll do geo caching or ride our bikes (if it’s a paved path) just to shake things up.

    Good for you fitting exercise into your family life!

  • says:

    Thank you so much for the feature!

    And yes, this idea has worked well for my family. My husband and I are each down about 30 pounds since we started. And we have found so many things locally that we did not know where there.

    And Karen- yes that is Pickett’s Mill! You have a good eye!

    suzy

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