When it comes to your running schedule, it may be tempting to stick to well-trodden paths of your local park or familiar pavements – especially if you’re pressed for time.
However, it seems an increasing number of us are tempted by the road not taken – ie the trail run – with searches for ‘trail running’ up 54% this year alone, and this curiosity is not without good reason. Switching up your usual road or park run for a trail run provides a plethora of mental and physical advantages: everything from lowering anxiety to using more muscle groups.
While this may not be practical every day – especially if you live in an urban area – you can certainly make trail running a fun weekly activity if you plan ahead. On a day off, take the time to head to your nearest bit of countryside or coast for a long run on the hilly terrain, and expect to reap the following benefits:
1/ You’ll use more muscles...
‘By mixing firm hard pack trails with mud, flat routes and hills, you help to ensure your body works a much greater range of muscle groups, not just in your legs but also the stabilising muscles in your core, feet and ankles,’ says Saucony running coach, Tom Craggs. This will improve your balance as well as your overall running power on all terrains.
(Related: Why you should run hard on trails)
2/ ... And help reduce your risk of injury
‘With each foot strike on a road or tarmac surface you’re generally hitting the same muscles with the same foot strike over and over, but mixed terrain surfaces will mean your gait and foot strike is slightly different each stride, meaning you will spread the impact over a great range of muscles,’ says Craggs. In turn, you put less pressure on individual muscles and joints. Goodbye shin splints.
3/ You will be less anxious
Doing nature-based physical activity could lower stress and anxiety, while boosting mental wellbeing according to research by Edge Hill University, maximising the existing mood-improving qualities of exercise.
4/ It could help you live longer
A Harvard study this year found living in a green space meant a 12% lower rate of death compared to living in an urban environment. While we can’t all live among rolling fields, driving out for a weekend trail run helps you cash in on some of those longevity boosting benefits.
5/ You’ll lose fat faster
For those looking to shed pounds, trail running can help you burn between 60 to 90 calories more per hour, according to data from the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal – this is thanks to the added challenge of uneven terrain.
6/ It will get you out of those negative thought spirals
Nature exposure reduces ‘rumination’, a.k.a when you get into a vicious thought cycle associated with depression. A 90-minute walk (or run) in nature lessens this negative brain activity, whereas the same exercise in an urban area has no such effect, according to research published in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article.