Plenty of scientific evidence supports the fact that regular exercise helps us stay healthy, mobile, and independent into our "seasoned" years. In fact, studies have shown that daily moderate exercise can mean the difference between becoming inactive and perhaps housebound at an early age or being able to remain active and keep up with everyday activities.
Beginning a new exercise regime can offer a new source of fun, as well as some tremendous health benefits. Of course, the activity must be appropriate to our abilities and health status. One enjoyable way to incorporate exercise into your life is to take up hiking. Do not be intimated by the word. Hiking does not mean traversing dangerous trails up mountains and through dense forests. Hiking is really just walking outdoors in nature. If you can walk, you can hike.
One of the great things about hiking is that it is a form of exercise you can do at your own pace and in an environment of your own choosing. Going on a hike can mean taking a leisurely walk along a well-defined, well- maintained path next to a flowering meadow or along a bubbling brook. While hiking provides exercise, you can also incorporate other activities into your adventure… like bird watching, looking for wildlife, and identifying different types of vegetation.
Hiking can be a social endeavor as well. Hiking with friends and family can be a lot of fun. Plus, there are many hiking clubs tailored to those of us in our seasoned years. Members hike in groups. Novice hikers set out together for shorter distances on trails appropriate to their abilities, while hikers with more experience tackle trails that are a bit more challenging.
If you are interested in hiking, make sure to discuss your plans with your doctor before you head out on your first trail. It is important to get your doctor’s approval before beginning any new form of exercise. Even those people who may have been avid hikers in early adulthood may need to make some kind of adjustments in their hiking routine as they head into later life.
The following tips provide some of the information you need to hike safely. Visit the National Park Service website at http://www.nps.gov/index.htm for additional information.
Wear comfortable walking shoes. Shoes or sneakers should be lightweight, offer support, and have nonskid soles. Always break in your shoes before wearing them out on a hike. New shoes can cause blisters and other painful issues. Bring an extra pair of socks along too. You will want your feet to be comfortable, warm, and dry throughout your hike.
Dress in layers. You will want to be able to add or remove pieces of clothing as needed during your hike. The temperature can change dramatically during a hike, especially if you will be walking on a trail at different elevations. It is a good idea to have a light weight jacket with you as well and to be prepared for inclement weather.
Never hike alone. It is always safest to hike with at least two people. An emergency can happen when you least expect it. You don’t want to be alone in a dangerous situation.
Avoid hiking during when it is hot or humidity is high. Begin your hike in the morning during warmer months. Mornings are always cooler and you can get off the trail and back home before the hottest time of day. A late afternoon hike can also be comfortable temperature-wise, but make sure you will be able to get back before dusk.
Always check the weather forecast. Before heading out on a hike, it is vital to know what to expect from the elements. You don't want to be caught by surprise by an unanticipated shift in the weather.
Plan your hikes according to your fitness level and personal abilities. Make sure to research trails well so you can select those that are best for you. If you have any balance or mobility issues, look for hiking trails that are flat and easy to negotiate.
Experienced hikers recommend carrying the following items in your backback whenever you head out on a hiking trail.
Use a walking stick or trekking poles. If you have physical, balance, or mobility problems, it is important to use a walking stick or other walking aid. Assistive devices can make your hike easier and more fun, especially in hilly or uneven terrain. You doctor will be able to tell you if you should be using an assistive device and recommend the type of device to best meet your needs.
Stretch your muscles before heading out on a hike. It is always necessary to loosen up your body prior to beginning a hike to avoid cramping and/or injury.
Always let someone know you will be going on a hike. Tell the person the time period when you will be hiking, the location where you will be hiking, and when you expect to return home.
Carry a backpack. You will want to have some essentials with you that you may not want to carry in your pockets or hands. There are many small, lightweight backpacks available that are easy for anyone to put on and wear. Your hiking buddy can always help you get to whatever you have in your backpack if you have difficulty doing so yourself. See our suggestions (in box at right) of items to bring along in your backback.
Hike at your own pace. A hike is not a race. Do not push yourself beyond your own fitness, endurance, and stamina levels. Make sure to stop for frequent breaks along your route so you can relax, recharge you batteries, rest your feet, drink some fluids, eat a snack, and enjoy the scenic surroundings.