03 Apr

Summer hiking will be here before you know it, which means we need to start getting ready. But us older hikers face a set of challenges that younger hikers do not.

As I'm getting older, my workout routine is changing a bit. It needs to, because it takes more time and effort to get into shape and to stay in shape as we get older. 

No doubt, the effects of aging are real and it is revealed in our body and mind. The root of the problem is the slow down of cell production and the progression of cell degeneration. We see it in a few obvious places:

  • Muscle loss. This actually starts in our 30s.
  • Bone loss. Our bone cell breakdown outpaces our bone cell production. This can lead to osteopenia or osteoporosis. After the age of 40, most of us start shrinking by about 1/2 inch every 10 years.
  • Our bellies show it. Visceral fat increases. This is the fat that accumulates around your abdominal organs deep inside your body. We can’t always feel it or see it. We may even have a flat tummy and still have visceral fat. It puts us at a higher risk of serious medical issues such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and inflammation. 
  • A slow down in gastrointestinal motility. This is the opposite of stability. We may experience an increase in acid reflux and constipation. 
  • We begin to experience a decline in our cognitive and sensory capabilities.

The effects of aging are indeed real. But don’t give up. There is good news.

Studies show that getting regular exercise can help slow down these age-related changes. It’s not without some risk and it’s not the magic pill. But it is very good for us in many ways. 

I have bone loss issues and my doctor recommended that I get at least a half-hour workout, 5 times per week.

If that sounds like a lot, here’s the thing: if I don’t find time to be active now, I’ll be forced to make time for expensive medical problems later. That’s almost guaranteed. And so, I choose to stay active.

Because I hike year-around, I can say without exaggeration, given my medical history (much more than what is mentioned here), that hiking has saved and continues to extend my life. It makes sense, then, for me to suggest that if anyone has medical issues and loves the outdoors, that this hiking thing presents a win-win situation. I hike to live, really live. 

My hiking plans for this year include:

  • a 100-mile hike in Arizona
  • some challenging 20-30 mile hikes in Colorado
  • a 30 mile hike in the Black Hills of South Dakota
  • And some other hikes, adding up to around 300 trail miles for the summer

When and how do I get ready to do all that? My normal daily workout is a 30 min callisthenic routine. But because of what I have planned, I started a more progressive and disciplined training routine very early in the year to make sure I'll be ready for my April hike.

My workouts are at home. For part of my workout I use my incline treadmill, but there are other exercises that I do that do not require any gym equipment. No gym membership is required here. 

But if you are one who finds that going to the gym makes it easier to maintain the discipline of an extended workout schedule, do it.  Do whatever it takes.

What I'm doing is very similar to the program that was developed for me prior to my Colorado Trail hike 8 years ago. It’s workouts focused on legs, cardio, and core. 

Legs: Strong legs gets you up and down hills. Do squats, lunges, dead lifts, calf lifts, or any of the dozens of other leg exercises you can easily find online. These work all the major muscle groups in my legs and glutes. I start off with 3 sets of 10 reps without weights and will work myself up to 4 sets of 25 reps with a 30lbs. There’s no need for me to get heavier than that, as I won’t be carrying more than 30 pounds on any of my hikes. Train for what you’ll be doing. 

Cardio: Conditioning your heart and lungs will increase stamina and endurance for those long challenging days. Stairs, incline treadmill, mountain climbers, squat thrusts, or any exercise that increases cardio activity. Again, start small and build. I started at 15 minutes with no pack and I'll build up to 50 min with a full 30lb pack. 

Core: A strong core helps with balance and stability. A strong core also takes stress off our back. Try several different versions of pushups, Russian twists, situps, crunches, planks, or resistance band exercises. I start with 3 sets of 10 reps and build up to 4 sets of 25 reps. 

Your routine doesn't need to be as I've described here. Do what is going to work for you. No matter what the routine looks like, it’s important to do something every day even if you can’t get in the entire workout. Also, be careful to gradually increase, and don’t over train. Injures happen when we get too aggressive with our training. This isn’t a competition, it’s just a means of preparing our bodies for higher levels of activity so we can enjoy more of the great outdoors.

And then on the weekend I am doing a full-pack hike that simulates my typical day on trail. This will help me break in my shoes and get some real trail training. There’s nothing like the trail to get ready for the trail.

If you have your own big hiking year planned, get busy training! If you’ve never done this before, hire a local performance coach or a strength trainer. Get your own personalized program designed for your goals. Learn proper exercise techniques and monitor your progress. Using proper technique and using a program specifically designed for you will accelerate your training and help ensure you are ready for the trail.

We’re older, but we’re not dead. So, don’t act like it. You can do this!

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