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Backpacker Magazine – May 2009

Fitness Special—Hike Forever: Age 50-65

Fight the sedentary lifestyle and get a move on with these exercised and essential skill.s

by: Casey Lyons



Your Body

Aging alone does not a weaker man make. A sedentary lifestyle is what really puts the skids on health and well-being. Starting at about age 50, the fight for fitness has one front that you can't control (age-related muscle losses, called sarcopenia) and one that you can (exercise). How you'll win: regular workouts. "At 65, you can maintain muscle mass at 90 percent of what you had when you were 20 or 30," says Greg Heath, professor of health and human performance at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Even quasi-sedentary Johnnies-come-lately can regain 70 percent of the fitness they had as 20- to 35-year-olds by getting back into a steady exercise program.

A: Heart Lower stroke volume–a result of stiffening tissues–means that each heartbeat circulates less oxygenated blood to O2-loving muscles. Stiffening capillaries also constrict blood flow, causing blood pressure to creep up. That's bad news, especially at altitude. The Fix: Hike, hike, hike. It stimulates your Frank-Starling mechanism (the body's way of compensating for the lower heart rate that comes with aging), which in turn increases heart-stroke volume. And eat foods containing vitamin K (parsley, watercress)

B: Lungs That sucking sound at altitude? It's due in part to weakened diaphragm and rib muscles making breaths shallower and less efficient. The fix: Endurance hiking–twice a week for 45 minutes at a perceived exertion of at least 13 –will keep your lungs and chest wall elastic.

C: Feet Sustained pounding makes your feet grow longer and wider, an effect compounded by age. The fix: Buy the right-size boots for your feet, and get a new pair before your old ones are trashed. (Try the multi-width New Balance 1500 Rainier; $170, newbalance .com), or visit a podiatrist, who can fix your foot ailments with a variety of orthotics.

D: VO2Max The maximum oxygen your muscles can use per minute has decreased about 10 percent since your twenties–up to 30 percent if you're sedentary. The fix: Short, intense workout bursts (10-15 minutes, 3 times a week) will crank it back up. Older adults can achieve 10 to 30 percent gains in less than three months, according to a report by the University of Washington Department of Family Medicine.

E: Bones As you near 50, your body naturally begins losing more bone than it's creating. This ups the risk for osteoporosis, which makes bones fragile. The fix: Load up on dairy (milk, which is fortified with vitamin D, is better than yogurt or cheese) and leafy greens to get your requisite 1,200 milligrams of daily calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D.

F: Joints/cartilage/back Cartilage loss isn't conclusively linked to age, but wear-and-tear does thin the cushioning between joints, particularly in the knees, spine, and hips. The fix: Compensate by strengthening the muscles in these areas that support balance, and the nerves that control stability. Stand on one leg–like a flamingo–and do partial squats, or swing your trunk from side to side. Bonus: This is great prep for a Grand Canyon hike, or any trail with high, awkward steps.

G: Muscles Studies have shown a loss of roughly 10 percent of total muscle fiber per decade in sedentary adults after 50. The fix: Don't sit still. Your body only feeds what it needs–unused muscle is denied energy and oxygen supply. Make muscles necessary by strength-training major groups 3 times a week, and cross-train to spread the fitness benefit.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star


Mar 26, 2012

I too am in better shape from hiking than I was at 30. Great article to encourage both genders to either keep going or start getting out there.

Rob Williamson
Oct 31, 2011

I find that on MSN, Sympatico and Yahoo almost almost 100% of the health articles are geared towards women. It's nice to see a good article for men.
Thank you so much.

Rob Williamson
Oct 31, 2011

I find that on MSN, Sympatico and Yahoo almost all the health articles are geared towards women. It's nice to see a good article for men.
Thank you so much.

Jul 29, 2011

At 61 I plan on doing lots more hiking, biking and backpacking. But as a woman I guess I will just have to make up my own fitness plan since you neglected to include us!

Jul 23, 2010

Great advice for men. How about a similar article focusing on women? We ARE different, you know.

Vic Nunez
Jul 23, 2010

Most of the perceived exertion scales go 1-10; can you put it in terms of 1-10, or explain your scale range?

Jul 23, 2010

As a 57 year old women that hikes regularly and just did a four day BP trip in the John Muir Wilderness, I say: this article is completely guy-centric. Are you suggesting mature women don't want a good outdoor fitness experience?

Jul 23, 2010

As a 57 year old women that hikes regularly and just did a four day BP trip in the John Muir Wilderness, I say: this article is completely guy-centric. Are you suggesting mature women don't want a good outdoor fitness experience?

Daryl Sturdy
Mar 16, 2010

Re print page. I had to go to Print page in my browser and reduce the scale to 50% to get the whole page.

Henry GrosJean
Mar 16, 2010

I am 63 and have exercised my whole life. These are great suggestions as myself and a buddy climb a local hill in Phoenix, AZ 3-times per week and run up the last quarter of the hill. Great cardio!
We hike rim to rim in the GC every year.

tim buffington
Mar 16, 2010

Do what the article says, I am 67 and did 7 miles on snowshoes yesterday with a 25 pound pack. I regularly do 7 to 10 mile day hikes with pack at 8000 to 9000 feet in the summer. I'm able to do this because I have been following a similar program for a long time.

Sep 25, 2009

So you say to do endurance hiking twice weekly for 45 minutes. What is endurance hiking, would love to partake

Jul 07, 2009

Through regular weight training and hiking I can honestly say I'm in better shape now, at age 57, than I was when I started backpacking at 15. For example, I did a 17-mile day hike on the local trails a month ago. Couldn't have come close to that 42 years ago.

Jack Dettra
Jun 17, 2009

Yes, if you are going to "show" a Print the Page, make sure your program will print the page. It doesn't.

Elmer Cheatham
Jun 12, 2009

Great article! At 55 I can already relate to every item covered in the article. Maybe this will give me the encouragement I need to take corrective action before any more damage is done.

Thanks and keep up the good work. Great magazine.!


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