ABOUT SENIOR HIKING
For seniors, hiking is a beneficial way to stay in shape and indulge in a sense of adventure. Age and even physical limitations are not barriers to participation: Hiking accommodates all abilities and levels of experience. Whether it’s wandering the trails of an urban nature center or striking into national park or wilderness-area backcountry, seniors can still raise some dust in beautiful settings.
Depending on physical condition, many older people find rough, rugged trails increasingly challenging as balance becomes more unpredictable. But there are thousands of miles of level, well-maintained, well-graded paths to satisfy the senior hiker, and many are just as rewarding, in their own way, as switchback-heavy routes in remote country. A slowed pace may be the ticket for deeper enjoyment of a nature trail, for example, where you can actively learn about local ecology while fully immersed in it. On public lands like a national or state park, inquire at a visitor center about hiking routes that match your ability and expectations.
Stretching before and after a hike can reduce a senior’s risk of injury or soreness. General stretches should focus on legs, back, abdominals, neck and other areas of the body stressed by a long trudge. One broadly beneficial stretch involves adopting a braced stance and leaning forward in a 45-degree angle with hands at hips, then holding this position. Consult a physician about your hiking goals and find personalized exercises best for your condition.
Invaluable companions for senior hikers as well as everyone else, trekking poles have myriad uses, but function chiefly as support aids. They reduce stress on the knees. With most models telescopically adjustable, poles prove their worth on tough uphill or downhill stretches. Anytime unstable terrain presents itself, from a rocky slope to a fast-moving stream, the poles serve as extra legs. Before purchasing a set, visit a store and try out different kinds. As a general rule, setting the poles so your elbows rest at a 90-degree angle to the ground when gripping them is most comfortable and beneficial, but don’t be afraid to play around with the configuration to find what works best for you.
Seniors are wise to hike in groups, for the simple reason that contingencies like a sudden injury or disorientation are best addressed by multiple people. A guided hike is an option for those who don’t have walking companions. These are widely available in national parks and are also often offered by local senior groups and other organizations.