Seniors & Hiking: Yes You Can!
Exercise is an important issue for elderly living. Studies have shown again and again that physical activity can help seniors enjoy longer, happier lives. Exercise not only helps to keep the body fit, it also helps promote mental acuity and improves mood. Hiking provides seniors with a safe, but effective form of exercise that will help improve mental and physical health. Senior care providers should look into incorporating hikes into their exercise regimen for seniors.
Hiking has been found to have a number of health benefits for seniors. According to a “Journal of the American Geriatric Society” study, seniors who walk at least four hours each week were at lower risk of being hospitalized because of a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem.
A University of Georgia study found that seniors who walked for about an hour three times per week reported a number of health benefits that a group of seniors in a control group did not. According to the study:
- The walkers increased their scores on a physical function exam by 25 percent, whereas the non-walking group saw a decline of about 8.3 percent.
- The walkers saw their disability risk decrease by 41 percent.
- The walkers increased their peak aerobic capacity by 19 percent, whereas the non-walkers’ peak aerobic activity decreased by 9 percent.
The American Heart Association also vouches for the health benefits of walking, saying it:
- Helps reduce the risk of heart disease
- Improves blood sugar levels
- Improves blood lipid profile
- Helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces obesity risk
- Improves mental well-being
- Reduces osteoporosis risk
- Reduces colon and breast cancer risk
- Reduces diabetes risk
Walking is one of the easiest, yet most effective ways to improve the health of seniors. With good planning and scheduling, it can be safe, fun, and helpful in increasing seniors’ quality of life.
Who is Fit to Hike?
When preparing seniors for a hike, it’s important to understand any physical limitations that they may have and adjust the hike accordingly. In general, seniors attempting to hike should be capable of walking short to medium distances. Non-medical home care providers should check with their physician to see if they have any medications or conditions that would make walking dangerous and any limitations on walking they may need to observe.
Preparing For an Outing
Senior care providers need to do a little preparation before taking seniors out on a hike. Taking a little time to make the proper preparations can reduce risk and make the hike more comfortable for seniors.
One of the most important things caregivers need to do for seniors preparing for a hike is to ensure they have water available to drink on the outing. Provide each senior with some bottled water to carry along on the trip they can drink at rest stops and as needed. This will ensure that they do not become dehydrated. Dehydration is a big health risk for seniors, so make sure they have plenty to drink.
Hiking appropriate footwear is also an important consideration. Caregivers should ensure that seniors are wearing shoes that won’t cause them to trip or rub blisters on their feet. Ensuring that the shoes are properly laced and tied is also important.
Any emergency medication or medical devices seniors may need should be available during the hike. Caregivers should know the medical needs of each senior in their party and be ready to address them should the need arise. Caregivers should be sure to carry their cell phones with them on the outing to ensure they’re able to contact emergency care providers as needed.
Proper protection from the sun is also important. Caregivers should ask seniors to apply sunscreen. Seniors should also wear hats and comfortable clothing for the hike too. The sun can pose a danger for seniors in terms of heat stroke, dehydration, and skin cancer, so proper protection is essential. Planning hikes for the early morning or late evening can help with this issue.
Good scheduling is also important to a safe hike for seniors. Caregivers should plan out the hike, selecting a route that will provide sufficient exercise but won’t be too strenuous for seniors. Caregivers should also plan several rest stops along the way to keep seniors from overexerting themselves.
One of the key side benefits of hiking for seniors is that it proves senior living can still be adventurous and fun. Walking in groups can also help provide seniors with a great social outlet as well, allowing them to interact with peers.
Seniors don’t have to stay cooped up in their homes. They can still enjoy the great outdoors and enjoy a little sun on their faces and fresh air. For seniors coping with some of the issues related to advancing age, this opportunity can be vital in uplifting their spirits and keeping them positive.