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There are a lot of things that people never told me about parenthood before I had kids. No one told me that I would never sleep more than five hours a night, or that chicken nuggets would become a gourmet food, or that my kids would have nicer stuff than me. This latter fact was a recent topic of discussion in my house.

My brother Tom is a world traveler and often shops for my kids while he is abroad. Last year he went to France and bought my soon-to-be 8-year-old a hot pink Parisian purse, and six months ago he returned with a baby blue Italian leather clutch purse for my 3-year-old daughter. Let me add here that I haven’t gotten a new purse since I had children. When one of mine started falling apart recently my dad offered to fix it with duct tape. My girls could be on the cover of Vogue with their bags — it just doesn’t seem fair.

Another thing that doesn’t seem fair is that my kids can eat gallons of ice cream and boxes of Pop Tarts and they are lean as can be. So, I decided to try to figure out what they do for exercise and emulate it. My oldest daughter likes to take walks, my son loves to climb trees and Lorelei, my baby, explores in the woods whenever the chance arises, although she is often wearing plastic high heel dress-up shoes while doing it. I put those three things together and decided to take my family for a hike in the woods for my fitness endeavor this week.

On a cool but sunny afternoon, we drove over to Oak Hill in Littleton to do a little exploring and, hopefully, some sweating. When researching the benefits of hiking, I was amazed at what I found. According to the American Hiking Society (AHS), hiking can help you lose excess pounds (yeah!); it can prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol (always good!); decreases high blood pressure (beneficial!); improves mental health (I can always use that!); slows the aging process (sign me up!); prevents osteoporosis and diabetes; and relieves back pain. You should be lacing up your hiking boots right now

I love exercising that can be done outdoors. I often take walks with my daughter on Sunday mornings and I love to swim and play tennis. There is something freeing about the outdoors that is missing from a gym atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed all of my gym excursions and currently belong to and frequent one in the area, but there is something missing when you walk on a “treadmill to nowhere.”

Before the hike, I packed what I thought we would need — water bottles, bug spray, sun block, snacks, hats, Band-Aids (although I hoped we wouldn’t need them), and a compass. My children had other ideas of what to pack. My son wanted to bring a light saber and his Batman mask, my oldest wanted to bring her book and an iPod, and Lorelei wanted to bring her Italian purse with every tube of lipstick and lip gloss that she could find.

We got over to Oak Hill, which is part of a 220-acre area owned by the town of Littleton. It is the highest point in Littleton and also is home to Tophet Chasm that drops to a depth of 80 feet and at the bottom lies the remains of an ancient waterfall. We were intrigued and started to hike. Hiking is the same as walking, just over uneven terrain, so if you can walk, you can hike. And apparently, if you are my children, if you can run, you can hike. My younger two took off at full speed and I knew that within a half hour their energy would wane and my husband or I would end up carrying them.

Bob and I enjoyed the scenery and watched our children frolic in the wilderness. They each had their own creative take on the adventure — Sam was playing Ninja Turtles and karate-chopping the air; Jill, who had just watched the new Disney movie “Bridge to Terabithia,” was busy imagining an alternate world with creatures and castles; and Lorelei, my 3-year-old, spent the majority of the walk applying her chapstick.

We climbed up hills, balanced on log “bridges” to get over swampy parts, and tried not to “slide” down steep rocky descents. Thankfully we didn’t get lost, due to my husband drawing arrows on the ground at every “intersection” in the woods. Lucky for us, his inner Boy Scout emerged that day. And, as I predicted earlier, Sam and Rory began crying about 15 minutes from the end of the hike that they couldn’t walk one more step. Sam actually lay on the ground and wouldn’t get up. “My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my bum hurts,” Sam yelled. So, my husband had Sam on his shoulders and carried Lorelei in his arms for the rest of the way.

I was sweating at the end and could definitely feel my muscles. According to the AHS, a 150-pound person carrying a 20-pound pack while hiking for an hour at a speed of 2 mph will burn 400 calories. I think I might have burned around that, but my husband, the fitness overachiever, probably burned about three times that because he ran with my kids in the beginning and carried two of them (about 65 pounds) for the last portion of the hike.

If you are looking for a great workout, and something you can do with friends and family, try hiking. It really is terrific exercise. For ideas on where to hike in Massachusetts, visit www.localhikes.com and put in your ZIP code. Oak Hill is great for families, but also try the Pine Meadow conservation area in Ayer, Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge in Bolton, the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Wachusett Reservoir in Clinton, Mirror Lake on Devens, or Groton Place in Groton.

You’ll never guess what I’m doing next week

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