The list of benefits that come with hiking is long, esp. for aging adults. From cardiovascular health, reduced arthritis symptoms, and improved bone density, to better memory, less depression, and stronger muscles, hiking can be your own little fountain of youth.
A hike can range between a casual walk in the woods to a full-on backpacking adventure. If you’re new to hiking, or haven’t hiked in a while, the best way to start is slow and low. Find a nice path in the woods that has little-to-no elevation. If that agrees with you, and you want more of a challenge, look for a hiking trail with slightly higher elevations. Hiking trails are often rated by other hikers, or for more organized trails, by the park in which the trail resides. Before you lace up your hiking boots, do your research and fully understand the type of trail you want to hike.
A quick internet search will help you find local hiking trails. There are several hiking apps that you can download for free, such as Alltrails.com
, that will list trails by zip code. Many apps will give you an overview of the trail, the location, trailhead, distance, map, and some apps will track you on the trail as you hike so you don’t get lost. These apps may include trail reviews from others who have recently hiked the trail. They often give the current condition of the trailing, pointing out if it’s wet after a rain or if the path is blocked by a fallen tree. Many apps will include if the trail is wheelchair accessible, paved or has ramps, too.
Prepare for the hike
Before you venture out, always talk to your healthcare provider to ensure you’re cleared for hiking. Once cleared, let’s start with hiking basics:
What to wear
This will depend on the weather but always consider wearing (or packing) sunblock, bug repellant, a hat, breathable clothing, and hiking shoes that match the type of trail you will hike. Socks are very important, so be sure they are breathable, and not made of cotton, which can cause blisters. Consider carrying a:
- Hip pack, which is like a fanny pack, to hold a water bottle, ID and a snack,
- Day pack, which is a smaller backpack for a quick outing, or
- Backpack if you’re on a long hike and need to carry more.
What you carry will often be dictated by the type and length of hike you are on. The longer the hike, the more you may need to carry with you. And if there is even a slight change of rain, carry a lightweight raincoat.
Consider using walking sticks
Walking sticks (or trekking poles), which can be found n just about any outdoors store or online, can help keep you stable and upright, offer less strain on your knees and engage your arms when hiking uphill. They have been known to save many hikers from stumbling on a root. If you purchase walking sticks, make sure you learn how to use them and set them up prior to your first hike. A quick YouTube video will show you how to walk with two sticks and a quick walk around the block will help you get the rhythm as you walk.
Bring water and snacks
Water is essential for every hike. On long hikes, some hikers carry water filters
to ensure they never run out of clean water. They use a nearby water source and filter the water for drinking. Pack more water than you think you will need but try not to over pack since you will need to carry everything on your hike and then carry the trash out with you. Packing snacks or enjoying lunch mid hike is a wonderful way to take a break and enjoy your surroundings.
Pack a first aid kit
Yes, you definitely need a first aid kit. Many hikes put a kit in their backpack and never need to use it but needing one and not having it can be the difference between an enjoyable hike and a not-so-enjoyable hike. You can purchase a pre-made kit or make one yourself. Think about what you would need on the trail and then add it to the kit. Often people will pack adhesive bandages, blister treatment, pain-relief and allergy medications, tweezers for a potential splinter, bug spray, antiseptic wipes, and bacitracin.
Share your plans
Before you hit the trails, be sure to let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be home. While texting a friend before a hike may sound silly to a grown adult, we all have the potential to get lost on a trail, experience unexpected bad weather or take a fall. Telling someone you’re on a trail is a safety system, just in case you need it. Be sure to take your MGMove medical alert
with GPS tracking on the trail.
Still not convinced? Check out these benefits
There are so many proven benefits to hiking alone but when you hike with others, the list gets even longer! In fact, a study reported in the Standford News
found that the time we spend in nature calms the part of our brains that are linked to mental illness and reduces negative thoughts. Another study published in Environmental Science and Technology
stated that being outdoors helps us feel more positive, gives us more energy and fewer negative feelings.
- Build stronger muscles and bones
- Improves balance
- Improves health
- Decreasing the risk of respiratory problems:
- Burn calories
- Boost mood
- Improves mental health
- Reduce stress
- Calm anxiety
- Lower risk of depression
- Improves sensory perception
- Build community
- Lessen isolation
- Strength relationships
- Decrease loneliness
Join a hiking group
If you’re excited to reap the benefits of hiking but you don’t want to go alone, there are plenty of communities -- locally and nationally -- you could join. From local community hikes or international hiking trips, you can find all types of active hiking groups. Some groups are age-specific, dictated by pace so it won’t matter if you hike slow or if your age plays a part in your hiking style. You will be with others just like you. And yes, there are hiking groups just for Seniors.
Not only is hiking in a group safer, but it can also be more fun. To find a local hiking group or club, do a quick online search, join a group like meetup.com, ask retail outfitters if they have a hiking club, check out night schools or local parks, search for a Facebook group, ask around at the gym or tap family members who already like to hike.