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Ever since I have lived in my house, over 10 years now, I have basically run the same course. Out my door, up my driveway, and off I go on a plotted course throughout my area. It’s a route filled with beautiful wooded scenery, uninterested horses, grazing cows, and the forever watchful dogs who always announce my coming and going. I have many stories of running by undetected skunks, crossing the paths of bucks, and trying to outrun approaching thunderstorms.

The course I take is mainly hill work. There are a few spots where the run is flat, but the great majority is hard hill work at high crescendos. The run can be made even more challenging when caught by the sun’s rays on a hot summer day. On these occasions, you can find me playing hopscotch with the spots of shade and sprinting through the areas were the sun shines bright.

Not too far from my house, about a 10 minute drive away, is a beautiful paved running path through the handsome woods that follows alongside of a glistening river. Struble Trail is a multi-use rail trail marked by the mile and often filled with other runners, cyclists, and skaters. There are fishermen standing in the water trying for a catch or two and walkers, many with dogs, out for a good brisk stride. Ah, company as I cruise along! Best of all, it’s completely FLAT and smooth! Or is it better?

There is no debate that running is an excellent cardio workout, benefiting your lungs and skeleton system. Both types improve your cardiovascular health, burn calories toward weight loss, and increase your lean muscle mass. There are also the endorphins that kick in that wonderful mental high and the reduction of stress and troubles as one plots along their course of choice.

But while both are intense physical workouts, hill running nudges out as the winning answer as being better for you. For starters, it challenges all of your major muscles further, especially working your upper leg muscles and backside as you push upward, while strengthening and toning your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes along the way. As one trainer once said to me, “running up hill lifts your butt and reduces any sag.” That’s an enough of a motivator for me!

Those who run on an incline also gain a more powerful stance and improved stride in almost all of the eight lower-body muscle groups, equating to a quicker running time when on flat surfaces. You will strengthen your hip flexors and Achilles tendons, develop more power in your calf muscles and quads, and increase your lower half strength and overall endurance.

Since running up also requires more energy, you will additionally increase your muscle elasticity and burn even more calories. How much more? Two hundred calories an hour more that running on level ground! For a 150-pound person, that is 1,000 calories per hour running uphill versus 800 on the flat. Increase your speed or add weight to your run, in your backpack or with ankle or wrist weights, and burn even more calories.

Enough said to keep me going on my hilly route! It’s nice knowing I’m working by body harder and I do love the results I see on my body. On the weekends, I may break the hills for the nearby flat trail for an easy five miles. Change up is good and gives my body the break of a lighter workout.

Either way, flat or uphill, you can’t go wrong with either running surface. It’s a win-win situation with the benefits of the cardio workout. So lace up, apply sunscreen, and get out there to reap the rewards of a good run.

Be fit. Be strong. Be well.