Hikes, Long Walks, Require Preparation
Summer will soon be here (so they tell me) when many of my patients and friends will head out on vacation. Some head farther north and spend their time in the woods, and others might go out west or hop the pond for a European holiday. Especially as we age, muscle tone, balance, and cardiovascular fitness will play a big role in how much we are able to enjoy—and recover from—our long days of exploration. I’ve collected several bits of advice I like to share with my patients who are headed out on walking or hiking holidays:
Splurge on good shoes. We’ve all worn inappropriate footwear at some time in our lives and regretted it after getting blisters or an aching back. Once we discover the comfort and value of well-fitting shoes, it puts a spring in our step. Do your research on good walking or hiking shoes or boots. Find a shoe store with trained personnel who can help assess your fit and the best type of footwear for your planned activity. Wear new shoes around the house for a few days as you do your regular chores and get a feel for the right sock thickness to go with them.
Select smart socks. Buy several pairs of really good hiking socks (preferably a wool/nylon blend) that will wick moisture and keep your feet dry. This helps prevent blisters, which can cause you to modify your gait and set you up for trips or falls.
Plan your pack. A day of shopping on the boardwalk is enough time for one of those flimsy string backpacks to dig into your shoulders and affect your posture and body mechanics. And have you noticed how a cross-body or shoulder bag can cause you to curve your spine as you walk? This type of discomfort can set you up for a sore back or a tripping hazard, not to mention a grumpy mood. Invest in a bag, purse, or backpack that will keep you comfortable and distribute weight properly. Explore the idea of a small daypack, which is a backpack with a hip belt that lifts weight off your shoulders and distributes it to your core muscles. Try one on and see what you think.
Equip Yourself. Practice before you leave on vacation to get in better shape and learn about what you may need to remain safe, comfortable and happy. For example, walking poles will take the pressure off your knees on declines and improve your balance as you climb, but they take a little practice. The sun may not bother your eyes in your tree-lined neighborhood, but it is much brighter along a sandy beach. Do you need a good sunhat to go along with your sunglasses to maintain clear and comfortable vision? Dehydration is serious fall hazard, especially for older adults. Pack a full water bottle (or two) and assess how that affects your load.
Train for Your Terrain. Your training regimen will depend on your current level of fitness and the type of walking or hiking you plan to do. If you plan to start a new training program, touch base with your doctor first because he or she may have some advice for your specific situation. You may also want to consult with a personal trainer or your workplace health coach to learn helpful stretches and draw up a plan or chart to carefully ramp up your walking program. Generally speaking, walk about three times a week and slowly increase your distance or speed. The goal is to arrive at the end of your trek happy with yourself and able to enjoy the view.