Hiking is not just for young people in their twenties. Outdoor enthusiasts of all ages are recognizing the numerous health benefits and the calming effects of the light cardio workout from flat or moderate incline trail walks. Surprisingly, in a world of "cut and paste" joints, many seniors are taking up hiking to strengthen their core and improve their muscles and joints to eliminate these procedures, with enjoying the beauty and wonder of nature as an added plus. How does hiking help the body?
Have You Forgotten How To Play?
We all start very eager to play as a child. We run and climb, twist and bend and get stronger because of it. The statement "if you don't use it, you lose it," is very true. We become adults in a career-driven world and may not take the time for outdoor activities. When a family comes along, we have an opportunity to play alongside our children, which is very good, but there could be an 8-10 year span where that kind of play may not be all that physical. That's a long time to let the body be in a randomly active state. Muscle mass and function begins to deteriorate in your 30's. Inactive people can lose 3-5% each decade after age 30. Some loss is natural age-related progression, but you can control how much and how fast you decline by being as active as possible on a regular basis.
Gym Or No Gym?
My feeling on this subject is use the gym whenever you cannot be outside, such as during inclement weather. Otherwise, do your lungs and body and skin a favor by breathing fresh air while you are active every chance you get. You may have noticed that even in your early 40's, your body is not the well-toned machine it was 15 years ago. Think about where it will be 15 years from now. Strength training for adults over 50 is becoming very popular with folks who can't bear the thought of only sitting on a couch for the next couple decades. They have discovered that backpack hiking has excellent cardio benefits and will build strength in their glutes, quadsriceps, hamstrings and the muscles in their hips and lower legs will regain muscle tone. Carrying a lightweight outdoor backpack adds weight bearing exercise to a very enjoyable experience that won't seem like boring exercise at all.
How Do I Get Started?
How Much Must I Hike To Make A Difference?
Let's say you are 60 and you want to enjoy the Great Outdoors and tone your body at the same time. Hiking a flat trail for at least four hours a week will provide increased endurance, improved balance, a lower risk of heart disease, better blood pressure and you’ll even sleep better at night, have more energy during the day and improve your mood. A walk in your neighborhood is more like a stroll, and although it is good exercise, many aspects that hiking can provide will be missing. Put a little weight in you hiking backpack with 2 water bottles, an extra sweater and some protein snacks, a safety whistle and your cell phone. You are now doing weight-bearing exercise without giving it a thought.
You Choose Your Terrain
As you become more acclimated to hiking, you may want to up your game by choosing a trail with more elevation, rockier instead of a paved park trail or longer in duration. Ease into your choices. Be sure to wear warm or cool enough clothing, proper footwear and non-cotton socks to avoid blisters. Get a set of hiking poles pr a walking stick to make you feel more secure over rougher terrain. Your balance will improve. Always do a few stretches before you begin your trek to loosen up your muscles. A few toe touches and side-to-side and over-the-head arm extensions will prepare your body. Set out in a normal walking pace. You can always increase it, but you should be able to breathe normally without sweating. Take time to enjoy the natural setting with the beautiful views. This is not a marathon and you are in charge of how long and how far you go. Pack a non-refrigerated lunch and a blanket to stop for lunch and rest. Always plan to be off the trail at sunset. Check your local area for hiking trails close by.
No matter what your age or current physical shape, you will love the empowerment of accomplishment when you ease into backpack hiking. Your body will listen and yield to your commands. Your lungs will breathe in fresh air and Vitamin D will be absorbed into your skin from the sun. Age is not your dictator, your mind rules your actions. Incorporating day pack hiking into your routine will benefit every body of every age. Happy hiking!