Hiking After 70

Mature couple walking down dirt road

Lee Barry was in his 40s when he first climbed Maine’s highest peak, Mt. Katahdin. The round trip took 7.5 hours; when Barry climbed Katahdin again forty years later, it took him 15 hours – but he completed the trek. Barry also set an age record for hiking all 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail: He’s done it five times, most recently at age 81. You don’t have to hike New England’s tallest mountain to enjoy the benefits of hiking after age 70.

Seniors and Hiking

The 2012 "100@100" survey conducted by UnitedHealth Group found that more than 50 percent of centenarians exercise every day; 45 percent stated that walking was their activity of choice. Though participation in outdoor adventure activities -- such as hiking and backpacking -- decreases after age 50, almost 20 percent of hiking enthusiasts are over 60, according to a 1997 study from the University of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Environmental Resources Assessment Group. In fact, older hikers may have a distinct advantage in one area: Life experience leads to increased confidence and problem-solving ability, both of which are essential to successful hiking, according to Great Outdoor Recreation Pages, or GORP, website.

Health Benefits

As a form of physical exercise, hiking offers a number of health benefits to those over 70. Engaging in physical activities every day of the week reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, colon cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Hiking offers an enjoyable way to get that all-important exercise; it burns between 180 and 266 calories per 30 minutes, a rate comparable to that of working out on a stair step machine or engaging in vigorous weight lifting.

Prepare Your Body

Before embarking on a hiking adventure, take the time to get in shape. Walk daily for a few weeks, building up speed and duration as you go. Keep your joints supple by moving them through their full range of motion before, during and after a hike. Build up muscle strength -- which decreases sharply after age 65 -- through a regimen of strength training exercises.

Slow and Steady

Women hiking on mountainside

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When it comes to hiking, age doesn’t matter; just stick to trails with a “C” level rating -- hikes of less than 8 miles that have between 500 to 1,500 feet of elevation change -- suggests the Sierra Club Tucson Trail Guide. Once you can handle “C” level hikes, move on to more challenging treks. Keep your mileage goals realistic by accounting for individual fitness and stamina levels. While hikers over age 70 may experience aches, pains and blisters, all hikers encounter these challenges -- and most can be overcome by preplanning, setting realistic mileage goals and not overdoing it.