It goes without saying that hiking knows no age. Just as a young toddler can happily trek along the trail, beholding the beauty of nature surrounding them, so can the elderly.
Not only are seniors perfectly capable of hiking, but it is actually beneficial and encouraged, for several reasons.
A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that “seniors who walked at least four hours per week reduced their risk of hospitalization as a result of cardiovascular events.” That right there is enough to get anyone out walking on the trails!
But wait, there's more. Check out all of the additional medical benefits that seniors who regularly get out and hike experience:
- Improved overall physical function
- Improved muscle strength
- Improved circulation
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Improved aerobic capacity, mental well-being, and blood sugar levels
- Improved bone health
- Reduced risk of heart attack, breast or colon cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes
- Reduced risk of disability
- Reduced depression and feelings of isolation
- Reduced arthritis, join, and knee pain
As you can see, there are so many amazing health benefits of hiking for the elderly. As goes with anything, there are a handful of tips one should keep in mind. We want to make sure everyone stays safe on the trails, especially our elders.
Check with your physician first. Make sure that there are no obstacles to your ability to go hiking. You want to be cleared by your doctor to exercise. If it would be helpful, you may want to consider using a mobility aid. This would help reduce the risk of falling and aid in keeping the weight off of a sore or injured foot. Additionally, consider using a walking stick or trekking poles to help with balance or uphill hiking.
Hike safely. Stay on the path. It is a good idea to bring a friend with you, but if you go alone, make sure you tell someone exactly where you are hiking and when to expect you back.
Dress appropriately. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers, so you can easily remove layers. Avoid wearing cotton; rather, wear moisture-wicking synthetic clothing. Wear a hat and sunscreen to protect your skin.
Stretch before hitting the trail. Spend a few minutes doing some simple warm-up stretches to loosen up cold muscles and get your body ready for the hike.
Hike at your own pace. The beauty of hiking is that there is no competition. Everyone can go as fast or as slow as they want. You don't want to work yourself too hard or run out of breath. No matter your pace, your body is getting exercise and you are enjoying nature. Win-win!
Get involved. Loving this new hobby and want some hiking buddies? Join a hiking club in your area. It is a great way to meet like-minded people and find some friends to go hiking with on a consistent basis. Learn more about how to get involved in a hiking community.
Stay hydrated. Bring at least 2 liters of water with you for your hike. Take several water breaks during your hike.
Plan your route. Map out your trail route ahead of time, and stick to it. Make sure you will be back before dusk. Hiking in the dark can be dangerous as you are more likely to fall.
Bring food. A high-energy snack, such as a bag of almonds or a protein bar, is a great snack for the trails.
Avoid excessive heat. Consider hiking in the early morning or evening.
Carry emergency devices/prescriptions. Any medical emergency devices or prescriptions, such as an Epi-pen, nitroglycerin tablets, or Medilert medallions, should be carried in a backpack in case they are needed.
Bring a cell phone. Have a fully charged cell phone with you, in case you need to contact someone to let them know your hike is going longer than expected, or you are lost.
Stay healthy in your older years by getting out on the trails. Trust me, you will reap the benefits of it!
Are you a senior who enjoys spending time on the trails? How has hiking benefitted you in your older years? We would love to hear how hiking has improved your well-being.