When you look at hiking advertisements or visit your favorite sporting goods store, you’re bound to see young, energetic (and often very good-looking) models representing the activity and the gear it involves. Hiking is often viewed as something that takes a lot of strength, stamina, and endurance.
Demographics show that the average hiker is 36 years old, but that shouldn’t stop anyone – especially seniors – from trying this activity and forming a new hobby.
When done the right way, hiking can be less strenuous and more relaxing. It can be less demanding and more challenging. Most importantly, it can be accessible to everyone and offer a great opportunity for seniors to stay active.
If you’re getting older and looking for something to do in your retirement years to stay healthy, consider taking a hike – no, not in a negative way. Start hitting the trails and going on nature walks, either on your own or with a friend. You’ll quickly see how beneficial hiking can be to your physical and mental well-being.
Not sure if hiking is right for you? Let’s dig a little deeper into why it’s such an underutilized hobby for seniors, and why you should consider giving it a try.
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It Boosts Your Mental Well-Being
Most people understand that physical problems tend to arise as you age, and we’ll focus on that shortly. But, mental health is just as important for seniors. According to the CDC, about 20% of people over the age of 55 have some type of mental health concern. Some of the most common conditions affecting seniors are
- Mood disorders
Seniors can also experience mental decline as they age. Cognitive impairment, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating are all common problems in older adults.
While you can’t stop the aging process and some of the mental health issues that may come with it, there are things you can do to keep your mind mentally fit and your mental wellness in a good place. Hiking is on that list.
First, hiking allows you to spend time in nature. When seniors create hobbies that allow them more time outside, they’ll reap the benefits right away. Everything from metal detecting on a beach to geocaching in the woods can give your mind a boost. Hiking, on the other hand, is designed to keep you outside for longer periods so you can enjoy more of those natural benefits.
Multiple studies have shown that spending time outside can improve your mental well-being. It has cognitive benefits that can improve your memory and focus, but it also serves as a natural mood booster.
In addition to spending time outside, hiking is a safe and effective way to stay active. That obviously helps with your physical health, but regular exercise helps to improve mental health by reducing your risk of anxiety and depression. It can improve your self-esteem, your mood, and your energy levels, making you more motivated to do more.
It Keeps You Physically Strong
It should come as no surprise that hiking is a fantastic way to stay physically fit. But, that also might be what has you on the fence about trying it.
When you see hiking as a strenuous activity meant for “young people,” it can feel intimidating and overwhelming. But, you certainly don’t have to walk along the most challenging trails in the country to get in a solid workout.
As you age, it can be harder to find ways to stay active that are challenging enough to make a difference but not so difficult that they cause pain or injury. Hiking is a happy medium that can become pretty addicting once you’ve done it a few times. Some of the most notable physical benefits include
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Increased stamina
- A healthier heart
- Improved sense of balance and stability
Seniors tend to be at a higher risk of developing certain conditions and illnesses with age. Some of the most common health concerns are hypertension, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and diabetes. While hiking isn’t a “cure-all” that can completely prevent these issues, it can greatly lower your risk of developing them.
Even if you already have an underlying health condition like varicose veins, hiking can make it easier to manage your symptoms and reduce any pain or discomfort. It’s a great way to boost your immune system, making your body stronger and healthier so you have a better chance of fighting back against conditions that might otherwise leave you feeling sick and weak.
It Offers a Sense of Community
One of the biggest societal issues facing seniors today is isolation. Nearly one-fourth of adults over the age of 65 are considered socially isolated. This has been a problem for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue as people were kept away from family and friends for health reasons.
Isolation isn’t just about being lonely and sad. Prolonged loneliness can lead to a variety of mental and physical health conditions, including
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive decline
- A weakened immune system
Isolation can even reduce your mortality rate, leading to an earlier death. That isn’t meant to frighten or discourage anyone. Rather, it just goes to show how important human interaction is at every stage of life.
Thankfully, there are things seniors can do to work through isolation and keep themselves from falling into the trap of loneliness. Technology has made it easier to stay connected with friends and loved ones, and things like volunteering, joining a senior center, or taking on a part-time job can all help to make sure you stay engaged with people.
Hiking is also a viable option – especially if you make it a hobby.
Though hiking is often considered a solo activity, it’s not uncommon to see other people on the trails. It’s an incredibly popular hobby for outdoor enthusiasts or people who just like to stay physically active. So, not only will you feel less alone while hiking and seeing others, but you can always choose to hike with a buddy, yourself.
Even if you end up hiking alone, you’ll quickly become part of a greater community. When you start to learn about different trails, gear, and everything you need to get the most out of your hike, you’ll meet people who can help and who share the same interests. Consider joining online communities and forums to ask questions and meet new people. The great part about connecting with others online is that you could be interacting with someone across the globe or someone local with whom you can eventually hit the trail. If you’ve got the travel bug, you can even research different parts of the world with incredible hiking trails, and connect with different cultures across the globe.
The benefits of hiking – especially as a senior – are second to none. Hiking is a fully customizable activity. You can go at your own pace, choose your own trails, and push yourself just as far as your mind and body are willing to go.