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Backpacker Magazine – May 2009

Fitness Special—Hike Forever: Age 65 & Up

Stay in shape with these workout tips, and advice from a fitness hero.

by: Casey Lyons



Your Body

True: The effects of aging seem to accelerate after 65. Also true: "Walking and moving around is the single most important thing older people can do to extend their life expectancy and remain independent," says Bill Evans, of the University of Arkansas's Institute on Aging. Heft a pack, hit uneven terrain, and the balance and strength gains pile up. Studies have shown that even inactive centenarians can triple their strength after 10 weeks of weight and cardiovascular training. Jump-start your fitness with our workout at the end of this article, then head out on the nearest trail.

A: Brain Mental acuity can wane in the golden years, resulting in slight cognitive impairment colloquially known as "senior moments." The fix: Walking regularly has been proven to combat mild cognitive impairment and fight depression.

B: Heart The valves that control the direction of blood flow get thicker and stiffer, limiting the amount of time you can spend in the red zone before heart attack becomes a real threat. The Fix: Studies suggest that coenzyme Q10 is effective in reducing heart stiffness, while boosting pumping action and electrical function. Help your body synthesize CoQ10 with wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and trout.

C: Bones Continued weakening can result in big injuries from small falls. The fix: Fight osteoporosis with calcium (1,000-1,200 milligrams/day) and vitamins D (600 IU per day) and K (80 micrograms per day). Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption, as does sunshine.

Water By age 70, total body water decreases by about 8 percent, which increases the risk of dehydration, heatstroke, and hypothermia. The fix: On trail days, drink half your body weight, in ounces (150 pounds = 75 ounces).

D: Muscle Strength losses accelerate to 30 percent per decade after 65, which can take your trail legs right out from under you–if you don't use them. The fix: "With strength training, you can regain a decade's loss in a matter of 6 months," says Stephen Reichman. Do more reps with less weight, and up your daily protein intake to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight.

E: Joints/cartilage/back Wear-and-tear decreases padding in the joints and back, leading to stiffness and pain when hiking. The fix: "Moving a joint loosens it," Lynn Millar says. At home, guide stiff joints through their full range of motion (arm swings for shoulders; squats for knees) 5 times per day. On the trail, repeat movements in the morning, at rest breaks, and in the evening. Pop 400 milligrams of anti-inflammatories 3 times per day.

F: Skin Your biggest organ thins with age, and your ability to heal wounds decreases. That makes open cuts more susceptible to infection, especially in the backcountry. The fix: Eat zinc (11 milligrams/day), which is found in high concentrations in pumpkin seeds, most nuts, and meat and dairy. If you do get a cut, flush, clean, and treat wounds promptly and thoroughly. And continue to slather on the SPF 40 sunscreen, especially at altitude.

G: Feet Years of use have worn out the padding under your instep and heel, which can create soreness from your feet all the way to your back. The fix: insoles (we like Superfeet's Orange model, $45;

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Harvey Swenson
Aug 13, 2011

DO NOT take just any anti-inflamatory drug in 400mg doses! The article doubtlessly is basing the recommendation on ibuprofen (eg: Motrin). Taking that dose of some of the many others (including some available without prescription in other countries) could be disasterous.

Jan 15, 2011

It all depends on what you hope to accomplish. If you hope to do long thru hikes you need endurance, for day hikes less but for peak bagging it is another story. I am 70 and have been hiking since 8 yrs old including a stint in the 82nd Airborne. Over the years I have found that moderate upper body training with weight in a typical workout routine plus just plain hiking is all I need. I train all year long but then I am hiking about all year long also with training intervals based on what I want to do. Recovery time is critical as you age if you do not want injuries. Do not go for heavy weights or push to hard on the hikes. Your body will tell you when you are pushing too hard. I try to do 3 weight training sessions a week and 3 days of hiking with weight (typically 20 - 30 lbs for 3 - 5 miles). I find a week of less intensity a month helps recovery but keep moving - take a walk of lesser mileage, work in the yard, whatever. I am fortunate to be able to hike in the woods year around here in Florida but I take to the western mountains from spring to fall. When I first go out I slow down and start training at elevation working up to 8000' after a month or so. I bag 13,000 - 14,000' peaks every year with the help of my son that lives in Colorado. I ran into a lady on the trail with a group who was 92 yrs old and still hiking and loving it. It takes really wanting to stay in shape or it will not be fun. A little extra planning and going light also help. See you out there....

Ray Anderson
Jul 29, 2010

I am 66 and have been extremely active for the past 35 yrs, marathon running, skiing, climbing, backpacking, and bicycling. I had two knee replacements a couple of years ago so I no longer run, but do everything else that I used to do. I stay in shape for these activities by bicycling, lifting weights and using an elliptical trainer. The only problem is that I tend to get too intense and get injured more than I used to. The only books I can find for the aging athlete seem to address beginners and people who are trying to get back into shape. Do you know of any books that adress the needs of lifetime athletes who have no desire to stop being one?
Thank you,
Ray Anderson

Ancient Sinner
Mar 17, 2010

I used to hike a lot when younger but a lifetime at sea kind of put the brakes on that. I started up again at 62 and will be 66 soon. I agree that the exercises here are a bit on the light side. They seem more like something for someone in rehab. I am way past that but I still struggle on the uphills. With all the specialized websites wouldn't it be great if we had one that focuses on the senior hikers.

Ancient Sinner
Mar 17, 2010

I used to hike a lot when younger but a lifetime at sea kind of put the brakes on that. I started up again at 62 and will be 66 soon. I agree that the exercises here are a bit on the light side. They seem more like something for someone in rehab. I am way past that but I still struggle on the uphills. With all the specialized websites wouldn't it be great if we had one that focuses on the senior hikers.

Colorado Pete
Mar 17, 2010

I have been backpacking for 47 years and am now nearly 77. I still average 3 pack trips a year, typically 4 to 8 miles round trip. I have worked to reduce my pack weight to under 30 pounds. I will be hiking the Grand Canyon at the end of April and consider this to be one of the most strenuous trips. This will be my 4th hike into the Canyon and probably my last there. I day hike all through the winter months, weather permitting here in Colorado, to keep myself in shape. I recently began using trekking poles as my sense of balance has deteriorated somewhat. They do help! I do not smoke or drink alcohol and have managed to keep my weight under control. I plan my hikes using the NG Topo map program on the computer and keep my pack trips in the mountains to under 15% max. average grade. All of this works for me and barring any serious injury, I hope to be able to continue the sport that I dearly love.
A final word of advice: plan your hikes carefully, keeping in mind your age and limitations. Don't overdo it!

Daryl Sturdy
Mar 16, 2010

If you're in really good shape for your age, I find that programs for my age group, 65+, don't fit. Try going down and age group and work out with the kids.

Anita Griffin
Mar 16, 2010

I am 70. Theses exercises do not appear to be tough enough to prepare for backpacking. What do other 70+ backpackers do to get ready for a trip?


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