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Why fall is the best time of year to hit the hiking trails

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PROVO — If you haven't headed up one of Utah's beautiful canyons in a while, now is the time. The leaves are officially bursting with color. One Utah family explains why they make fall hiking a priority.

Natalie Ockey says there's something special in the air this time of year.

"Fall is the best time, because the air is just crisp and I feel like it gets a little clearer," she said. "I feel like the leaves falling off the tree is just like magic. I love it."

Natalie and her husband, Randy Ockey, love to stay active with their three sons. They blog about it at Utah's Adventure Family.

"We try to go and find all the fun places for families to be in Utah and give tips so that it's easy for families to get out" she explained.

Ockey is trying to teach her boys about the importance of health while they're young.

"They don't realize that they are exercising and using their body because we're having fun, we're talking, we're enjoying what's around us," she said.

Intermountain Healthcare exercise physiologist Nick Francis says that's the goal.

"I think it's important to teach your kids that exercise can be fun," he said.

With clearer air quality and sturdier ground, Francis argues fall is the best time of year to get outside.

"It's temperate. It's not too hot. It's not too cold… It's not as wet as spring can be so it's just a lot more user-friendly," he said. "Anytime the terrain is less predictable, there's probably a little bit more chance of injury there."

Fall is a great time to go on a hike in Utah.
Fall is a great time to go on a hike in Utah. (Photo: Josh Syzmanik, KSL-TV)

Francis encourages people to get at least 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise every day. He says hiking is an easy way to get the blood pumping.

"It doesn't have to be grueling, but it should be more than just kind of slowly pacing around the house," he said. "Moving more often is usually better at a low intensity. The more you can move, the better."

Francis says exercise is good for the heart and lungs and can elevate your mood with increased endorphins and a boost of dopamine.

"It just makes you feel better. You're oxygenating, you're getting that circulation moving around," he said.

He says it's important to understand the difference between low, moderate, and intense physical activity. He encourages people to use a smartwatch to track their heart rate, steps, and respiratory rate.

In order to calculate your maximum heart rate, Francis tells people to subtract their age from 220. From there they can calculate intensity percentages based on that number.

He says moderate exercise is anywhere from 50% to 70% of someone's maximum heart rate.

Natalie Ockey believes hiking has been especially important for her youngest son, 9-year-old Seth Ockey. He had heart surgery when he was just a baby.

"It was really important for us that he could still keep that heart strong," she said. "Hiking has been key for him. It keeps his heart going, keeps it healthy."

"I just think it's calming and peaceful," Seth said.

If hiking isn't appealing, Francis encourages people to find a different way to stay active.

Natalie Ockey and two of her sons look at leaves on a hike.
Natalie Ockey and two of her sons look at leaves on a hike. (Photo: Josh Syzmanik, KSL-TV)

"Finding something you like, is really the key to sustaining that type of lifestyle," he said. "Exercise can be anything that you enjoy and this is a really good way to keep the family together. You're all out experiencing the same things, you can talk to each other."

He says people who are consistent live healthier lives. For the Ockey family, it comes down to planning ahead.

"We try to just look at our calendar and whenever we see an open spot, it's just — plan. That's our adventure night. That's when we're going to hit a trail," Natalie Ockey said.

She encourages newbies to find an easy trail to start on.

"Don't try to push for like those big hikes you see that are 10 miles but super famous," she advised. "Avoid weekends if possible. Weeknights are a great time to hit the trail where there's fewer people out and about."

Natalie cherishes the memories her family has created together on the trails.

"It pushes us to spend time as a family and we just felt like it's helped our family to grow closer," she said. "There's something about it that helps us connect and slow down a little from our busy life of sports and school."

Intermountain Healthcare offers a Healthy Hikes and Rides database to help families find an adventure within their abilities, including more than 60 wheelchair- and stroller-accessible trails.


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