The conversation around senior health has evolved greatly over the past several decades. It has moved from outdated mandates that older adults should “take it easy” and “rest more” to save themselves from the ailments of aging. Now there are new, reinvigorated findings that regular exercise and lots of activity are the best ways to stay healthy, even in your 70s and 80s.
The need for physical fitness programs, gyms, and creative senior exercise ideas will continue to grow. This is especially true for the Baby Boomers, the second largest generation, aging in the 65+ bracket by 2030.
One active hobby that has benefitted seniors for possibly the longest time, and will continue to, is hiking. Free, accessible, and fun, hiking is proving to generate loads of essential health benefits for seniors:
1. Lowers risk of heart disease
The number one killer of men and women in the U.S., heart disease affects millions of seniors every year. Experts have shown time and again that routine physical fitness that exercises the heart and increases blood circulation helps lower risk of heart disease as well as stroke and high blood pressure.
2. Reduces feelings of stress
Spending time in nature was shown in a 2016 study to help reduce brooding or rumination over negative thoughts and feelings. In addition to this boost in emotional positivity, hiking may also help seniors be more attentive and focused.
3. Fights osteoporosis
With over 50 million older adults in the U.S. experiencing the side effects of low bone mass or osteoporosis, finding creative ways to build bone density is a must. Hiking offers dual solutions: healthy outdoor sunlight exposure helps the body produce Vitamin D to aid calcium absorption in the bones, while the physical activity of hiking helps strengthen bones.
If you need more info on vitamin D, below is an infographic from www.vitaminDfoods.org.
4. Decreases arthritis pain
For seniors who think physical activity will exacerbate pain from arthritic joint inflammation, think again. Low-impact activities like hiking actually help boost blood flow, loosen stiff joints, and increase flexibility and range of motion. Supported by orthotic aids like arthritis gloves or a carpal tunnel brace (refer to these), seniors can enjoy hiking without worrying about the risk of pain or inflammation.
5. Prevents falls
One of the greatest fatality risks for seniors is falling. An estimated 25% of adults over 65 will experience a fall, many ending up in the hospital with hip fractures or head trauma. Hiking helps hone coordination and balance, equipping seniors with the skills they need to be able to better catch and correct themselves when they trip or get off balance.
6. Improves cognitive functioning
Worried about developing Alzheimer’s or age-related dementia? Activities like hiking may help lower your risk for those debilitating conditions. How? In addition to the increased blood flow which carries vital nutrients and oxygen to critical brain cells, walking a mile a day may also increase the amount of gray matter in your brain. This reinforces the crucial brain regions, protecting them from damage which can contribute to cognitive decline.
7. Motivates more exercise
Exercising in the great outdoors with fresh air and sunlight does seem like a better alternative to walking on a treadmill in a stuffy gym, doesn’t it? Researchers showed in a 2017 study that the effective responses from three hours of hiking increased participant engagement. Not only that, the likelihood for participants to stick with a physically active lifestyle also increases.
Once you catch the hiking bug, you’ll soon be planning to tick off these great places to hike on your bucket list.
8. Boosts social interaction
Hiking for seniors is oftentimes done with a partner or group of people. Adding a beneficial social component that positively impacts senior health. Engaging with other people in real-life discussions helps older brains strengthen neural pathways. Social interaction potentially prevents cognitive decline. It can also stave off feelings of social isolation, loneliness, and depression which often accompany getting older.
A fun way seniors can find themselves trekking the great outdoors is to join a hiking-enthusiasts Meetup group. They may also volunteer for a trail or river cleanup server project. Or organizing a camping and hiking trip with a group of friends or at a family reunion.