Growing old in good shape is like being a shark: you need to keep moving. And there is absolutely nothing better for the mind, spirit, and body than going on a hike. For those who seek a gentler, less demanding walk, there are still magnificent sights to see, whether locally or further from home. Awe-inspiring spots that may seem intimidating, such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona or the Bryce Canyon in Utah, also offer a full range of easier hikes. And for the physically strong, the list of wonders to behold is even longer, with mountains to climb and astounding vistas to see. There will always be a hike that will perfectly suit you and your abilities, but whatever its difficulty level, you should always prepare for the worst-case scenario. Here are our tips on how to stay safe while hiking:
Don’t Hike Alone
Hiking at any age can be dangerous to do alone, but later in life, it comes with increased chances of falling – with worse consequences on the edge of a ravine than in your kitchen. Even in your home, a bad fall can lead to a severe hip fracture, setting you back permanently in terms of fitness. One obvious way to avoid finding yourself stranded alone up a mountain is to find a friend to hike with, or even better, a group. By joining one of the many hiking groups out there, not only will you head off on your adventures feeling more secure, but you’ll even find yourself building a new social life. There are many Facebook and MeetUp.com groups, and joining one can also help avoid any feeling of isolation that sometimes comes later in life. Reducing loneliness also means living longer to enjoy your new social life, as social isolation increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Go Slow and Stay Hydrated
While we all know it’s important to pace ourselves and stay hydrated when out, hiking as a senior can bring increased health complications. One such problem is due to the medications many seniors take, which may have diuretic side effects. This can increase the chance of severe dehydration, which is extremely dangerous. One way to avoid this is to take lots of breaks, go slow, drink plenty of water, add electrolytes to your water for more strenuous hikes, and, of course, wear a hat. Heatstroke is another major risk, especially for seniors with poor circulation or medication that may affect the body’s ability to control its temperature. Diuretics, sedatives, and beta-blockers are just some medications that may result in you overheating quickly.
While hiking is one of the best ways to keep fit, for those over a certain age this shouldn’t mean taking unnecessary risks. Luckily, you can find many accessories that will help you feel secure. Trekking poles are a handy tool to have at any age and knee braces can provide extra support. However, sometimes these will not be enough, and having the means to contact an emergency service may mean the difference between life and death. Going for a hike with a medical alert system is exceptionally reassuring for those adventurous types, as well as for their loved ones waiting back home. Services such as Medical Guardian provide just this type of security, with its lightning-fast control center monitored by exceptionally trained care operators and lightweight devices with GPS tracking and extended battery life. This means you can head out with Medical Guardian’s mobile device or sleek smartwatch and completely forget about it – until that moment when it becomes your guardian angel.
Are the Risks Worth It?
If there are so many risks associated with going hiking, why do it at all? Well, regular hiking has a considerable positive effect on a senior’s health, as long as you head off well prepared. It can reduce hypertension, improve ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and bone density, help maintain a healthy weight, and is a great cardiovascular exercise. The physical benefits are clear, but many studies, such as the one by Stanford University researchers, have also shown the rejuvenating effect exercising in nature can have on your mind. Not only does reconnecting with nature reduce depression, anxiety, and stress but exposure to natural light affects your melatonin levels, which results in a better night’s sleep. Another irreproachable benefit specific to the older hiker is an improved sense of balance and proprioception, which is your mind’s awareness of your body in relation to its surroundings. Improving these two factors will significantly reduce the chance of a fall in your daily life, which in turn will keep you mobile and fit.
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