The Benefits of Hiking Into Old Age
No matter how old you are, almost everyone understands the benefits of staying physically active. Unfortunately, getting older often means having to limit yourself when it comes to certain activities. You might not be able to get around as quickly as you used to, and some types of exercise could even be dangerous or risk injury.
Fortunately, hiking isn’t one of those activities.
Not only is hiking a great way to spend more time outdoors, but it’s a wonderful workout that can boost your energy and your strength — and that’s just the beginning!
If you’re a senior, staying active is incredibly important when it comes to maintaining your physical or mental health. Whether you’ve been an avid outdoor enthusiast your whole life or you’re looking for a way to keep moving into old age, hiking is a great option.
As you get older, your risk of developing certain health conditions increases. Some of the most common conditions seniors face include:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory diseases
Seniors also tend to be more prone to conditions like varicose veins. Exercises like walking and hiking can help with these issues by improving circulation and stretching your calf muscles. Building muscle and bone strength is crucial for older individuals, as it can reduce your chances of falling and seriously injuring yourself.
If you’re already dealing with certain health conditions, like acid reflux or GERD, hiking is a fantastic way to alleviate your symptoms. One of the best things you can do when you have GERD is to manage your weight and reduce the pressure on your stomach. While a healthy diet is important, staying active with hiking can help to alleviate that pressure and keep you at a healthy weight, making your symptoms less severe.
While the physical benefits of hiking are undeniable, it’s also important to note how much of a positive impact it can have on your mental health. It’s not uncommon for seniors to struggle with feelings of depression, isolation, and loneliness. Not only can those lead to more severe mental health issues, but they can eventually impact your physical well-being.
The mental health benefits of hiking start simply by being outside. Multiple studies show that spending time in nature is good for your mental health. Some of the biggest benefits include:
- More energy
- Reduced stress
- Improved focus
- Boosted mood
Being outside and spending time on some hiking trails can also help you to meet new people. It’s a fantastic way to socialize and find friends with similar interests.
Alternatively, hiking also helps with mindfulness. Time in nature has been known to serve as a form of mindful meditation. When you’re walking along a trail by yourself, you can focus on staying in the present and taking in your surroundings, rather than dwelling on other stress and worries that might be impacting your life. By the time you’re done with your hike, that kind of mindful meditation can help you to feel more relaxed and happier.
One of the potential problems older individuals face while trying to stay active is getting injured. Workouts that are hard on your joints or too strenuous on your body may not be a viable option. Luckily, hiking is a low-impact way to keep moving.
However, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor or a gerontology specialist about whether hiking is right for your health needs. If you have any underlying conditions or a medical professional thinks hiking might be too risky for you, knowing that ahead of time will keep you safer. Even if they tell you it’s okay to hike, they might give you some insight on whether to avoid longer trails and how to build your stamina over time.
If you get the “all clear” from your doctor, there are still some steps you should take to keep yourself safe on the trails. That starts by making sure you’re properly fueled and hydrated before, during, and after each hike. A few tips that can help to ensure you don’t dehydrate include drinking at least two (or more) glasses of water before you start your hike, and adding electrolytes to your water when you’re on the trail. Try to avoid sugary sports drinks or caffeinated beverages, as they can facilitate water loss.
It’s also important to pay attention to your own body. Hiking can be a wonderful workout, but understand your limits. Whether your goals are to stay physically fit, reduce your risk of illnesses, or stay mentally healthy, you’re going to have a harder time achieving those goals if you’re pushing yourself too hard. The benefits of hiking go far beyond a normal “exercise routine”. Take advantage of those benefits, and enjoy every step into your golden years.