Hiking is a healthy hobby that many seniors can, and we think should, pick up. Today, we’re going to look at a variety of reasons why seniors should go hiking, since this activity can improve both your mind and body in a way that may uniquely appeal to seniors. Whether they’re looking for a calorie-burning workout or a meditative, peaceful time with nature, seniors may just find that hiking improves many aspects of their lives.
Great Low-Impact Exercise
The importance of low-impact exercise for seniors cannot be overstated. With the increased chance of injury that many seniors face, due to our bones losing density as we age and other fitness challenges, older Americans need to find ways to mitigate the risk while keeping in shape. Luckily, hiking, a low-impact exercise, may be able to fulfill this need perfectly. A lot of times, hiking is walking through the woods, giving you all the benefits of a nice stroll. For many seniors, these benefits can include losing weight, but they go even further than this. Walking has been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease in seniors and boost memory and brain power! Evidence also shows that regular jogging, if you want to take it up a notch, can slow age-related decline.
Luckily, hiking, a low-impact exercise, may be able to fulfill your exercise needs perfectly.
The difference between hiking and just taking a leisurely stroll is that hiking is a way that you can get more out of you walks. Unlike walking around your neighborhood, hiking doesn’t have paved walking paths. Often, you’ll be walking on elevated trails or uneven surfaces. While this can raise fall risks, it can turn a walk into a more rewarding exercise. Additionally, hiking can feel less like exercise and more like an adventure! When paired with bird-watching, another healthy hobby for seniors, or nature photography, your hike can take on a purpose beyond exercise that can get even workout-averse seniors to burn some calories.
Mental Health Benefits
As we’ve already hinted at, hiking has other health benefits beyond the physical. It also has a combination of multiple mental health benefits you can get. For instance, there’s evidence that simply walking and exercise can help fight stress, depression, and anxiety. You can then take those and bolster them with the stress and anxiety-reducing effects of nature. Time in nature has even been linked to higher levels of self-esteem and may even act as a form of mindful meditation! This is all backed up by a Stanford University study that saw lower rates of depression and measurable mental health benefits in people who spent time walking in nature.
Multiple Difficulty Levels
Hiking can mean many things to many people. For some, it’s a stroll in the woods, while for others, it’s more akin to mountain climbing. The illustrates one of the key strengths of hiking. As we mentioned in our “3 Fun, Competitive Sports for Seniors” article, scalability of physical effort is important in an activity for seniors, since everyone isn’t always at the same fitness level. Hiking has this scalability, giving a lot of seniors the ability to take up hiking and take advantage of the fitness and mental health benefits that it presents!
Hiking has this scalability, giving a lot of seniors the ability to take up hiking and take advantage of the fitness and mental health benefits that it presents!
So, how do you gauge the difficulty of a hiking trail? Well, that takes a little research (though, some trails outright tell you the difficulty). Talking to the park rangers, if you’re at a national park, can help you get a good idea of a trail’s difficulty. For example, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia has its own formula for determining trail difficulty. Start with the elevation gain (final elevation minus starting elevation) times two times distance in miles. Then, you take the square root of that number. The final number will then fall somewhere along their scale, which goes up to 200. Less than 50 means the trail is of the easiest difficulty; 50 to 100 means the trail is moderate; and so on in 50-point increments. If that sounds like a lot of math, you can also try this different, but equally handy calculator for calculating trail difficulties.
Please note: It’s important that you stick to trails that match your fitness level, so you don’t get hurt. Depending on your unique situation, you may be able to work your way up to a higher difficulty level!
See the World
Once you start hiking, it can lead you to want to travel and explore the world some more. As we’ve posted before, travel is a healthy activity for seniors. There are many hiking trails around the world that are famous for their beauty, difficulty, or both. In fact, a large majority of the stops on the perfect U.S. road trip are national parks with hiking trails. Pristine hiking trails aren’t limited to the United States, though. Nearly every country has at least a handful of world-class hikes that avid and fit enthusiasts travel to do each year. If you want to stay fit and love to travel, hiking can allow you easily combine those passions!
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Before you go hiking, check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to go. While hiking can be healthy for seniors, and you’ll often be able to go at your own pace, there are always risks involved with any sort of physical activity. Risks that being nature presents may include the aforementioned-uneven hiking paths, unsecure ground, or even wildlife.
Hiking is a great hobby to have, but you have to be healthy enough to safely get the benefits. That being said, if you are healthy enough to go hiking, it’s an incredibly worthwhile pastime that can be done almost anywhere there is nature! Not only can a hike help you get in shape, even if you’re over the age of 65, but it can also help improve your mental and emotional wellbeing and provide a hobby for a lifetime.