The traditional notion of hiking – heavy boots, a backpack and a twisting, hilly trail – sounds more like a recipe for sore knees, achy hips and tender feet than a good way to spend a day outside and get some exercise. So how does a person with arthritis get a little nature in their workout?

You can get a great cardiovascular workout, burn calories, keep your joints moving and make your muscles strong all in inspirational, natural settings by trail walking. Walking on hiking trails can be enjoyable as long as you plan ahead and take precautions to protect your joints. Lou Ann Kernodle, physical therapist in the exercise science department at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and a hiker herself, offers this advice:

Check out trails beforehand. You’ll want to walk on smooth, relatively level trails, so check with park services, local hiking clubs and local hiking outfitters to get recommendations for appropriate trails in your area. Go to www.americantrails.org or www.americanhiking.org to find “low difficulty” trails in state and national parks.

Five Scenic, Easy Trails
Don’t be deterred by long trails. You can always turn around when you’ve reached your limit. But if you prefer walking a trail that’s sure to be easy, you can find them from coast to coast. Here are a few:

BostonLizzy’s Trail: Located 45 minutes north of downtown Boston in Bradley Palmer State Park, this two-mile crushed limestone trail follows the scenic Ipswich River. 

Jacksonville, Fla. The Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail: – Stretching mostly through deep woods, this 14-mile paved trail is very well shaded.

San Diego – Silver Strand: With nice views of the Pacific Ocean, this flat, paved, 11-mile trail from Coronado to Imperial Beach mostly follows the route of an old railroad line.

Seattle – Burke Gilman Trail: Extending along a former railway, this 12.5-mile trail stretches through the University of Washington campus and Gas Works Park and skirts Lake Washington.

St. LouisSt. Louis Riverfront Trail: This 11-mile, paved greenway runs north from the famed Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River.

Gear up. Walking poles, walking sticks, canes, braces and splints all can help take pressure off joints and make you more comfortable. For cooler weather, neoprene knee sleeves or continuous low-level heat wraps bought over the counter can help keep knee joints warm and supported.

Dress your feet. For walking on flat trails, unless you have severe ankle instability, running or cross training sneakers work well because they absorb shock, which is crucial for those with arthritis in the hips, low back, ankles or knees.

Warm up. Before you start, warm up to reduce joint irritation and chance of injury by walking slowly for five to 15 minutes while swinging your arms. Then go through a gentle stretching routine and you’re ready to pick up the pace.

Cool down. When you reach the end, take a few minutes to walk at a slower pace and stretch again. You may be able to increase your range of motion as your muscles are warm and pliable. Take advantage of trees, rocks or logs by using them as props for stretches.