Professional kayaker Brad Ludden knew the power of a great active adventure from a young age. “I was raised in the outdoors growing up in northwest Montana. Each season was a new family adventure, from skiing to camping, fly fishing, kayaking and hiking,” Ludden says. “My favorite memories were formed outside and my passion stayed there.”
So when, at age 13, Ludden had to watch his aunt battle breast cancer, it was only natural for him to turn to the river when he was seeking a way to help those fighting the all-too-common disease. He started teaching teens at a pediatric oncology organization how to kayak and asked, “Why isn’t there anything like this for people like my aunt?” So in 2001, when he was just 18, Ludden created something. That something is now First Descents, designed to help those who have or currently are battling cancer “experience the healing properties of the outdoors.”
We spoke to Ludden to learn more about his unique way to empower young adult survivors and fighters who are among the most underserved demographic of the cancer world.
What is your top memory from your time with First Descents?
Through 11 years of amazing friendships, experiences, adventures, conversations and challenges, I’ve gained priceless perspective on life. I live every day differently because of the time I’ve spent with First Descents.
Keep reading for more about Ludden’s aspirations for First Descents and for details about how you can make a difference.
In a post a few weeks ago about The #1 Predictor of a Happy Marriage, you saw how one FITNESS editor got a fabulous new point of view from demanding hike. But you can still get the health benefits of hiking–or trail running!–on tamer paths, too. Spark People gives offers seven good reasons to put on your trail shoes and get closer to nature this weekend…
1. Burn More Calories
Whenever you change up your workout routine, you will challenge your muscles in new ways and burn more calories. The changes in terrain of a trail will cause you to recruit more muscle fibers to balance and find your footing. And many trails are embedded with inclines, steps, bridges, stones, downed tree trunks, puddles, creeks—all sorts of obstacles you need to navigate, which means you’ll burn 10% more calories than walking or running on a flat surface.
2. Protect Your Joints
One good thing about walking or running on a hard surface is that it can help encourage the development of strong bones. But for anyone with existing joint problems or previous joint injuries, all that pounding on a hard surface can really give your body a beating. That’s why trails are a great alternative. Grass and dirt are far softer than cement and blacktop, making walking or running on a trail much easier on your joints.
3. Stay Cool
As the mercury rises, sometimes it is just too hot and sunny to work out comfortably when you’re outside. Instead of letting the heat stop you, hit the trail. It’s noticeably cooler in the shady environment surrounded by towering trees that provide cover from the intense sun.
4. Breathe Easier
Even if you can’t always see it, there is pollution all around us, and you breathe it in when you walk or run next to a road traveled by vehicles. Not cool. One study found that exercising too close to traffic can actually increase your risk of cardiovascular disease because of the inhalation of pollution. So whenever you can, get away from high-trafficked roads. The trail is perfect for that!
5. Beat Boredom
Tired of the same old routine? There is so much beauty and interest in the natural world that you may find the minutes fly by as you look at the trees, animals, birds, and other plants along your trail.
6. Lift Your Spirits
More and more research shows that spending time in nature isn’t just fun—it’s essential for our well-being. Getting away from the hustle and bustle, basking in the sun, slowing down and smelling the roses: It can help us reduce stress, ward off depression, get our daily dose of vitamin D, and generally feel healthier.
7. Bond with Your Buds (or Your Kids)
Going for a hike is a great way to hang out with your friends and do something active. Trail hiking is great for pets and kids, too. They’ll have a blast exploring the plants, insects and animals they see. It’s a family-friendly activity you can add to your “fun” list that gets everyone active!
More from Spark People:
- 10 Things to Take on a Hike
- Precautions You Must Take When Exercising Outdoors
- The Proven Weight-Loss Program that Isn’t a Diet