Health Info & Resources for Seniors
"The outdoors is calling you to step up your exercise routine. It promises to deliver sights, smells, and sounds to distract you so you might even forget you’re exercising," says John Graham, Senior Network Administrator of St. Luke’s Fitness and Sports Performance.
“The great outdoors offers health benefits that can’t be duplicated, beginning with every breath you take,” he says. “There’s no cleaner air than what’s outside. But that’s not all. When you’re exercising outdoors, you must use the bones and muscles of your own body to support you and to ambulate. There are no treadmills or machines to help you move.”
Moving outside requires your eyes, mind, and body to work together in a way that’s different from working out in a gym. As you grow older, this helps to sharpen your mind and improve your balance. For example, when you’re hiking on a trail with uneven terrain and hazards like rocks and roots, your brain interprets messages from your eyes and directs the muscles in your legs and feet to move so you won’t trip. In addition, unlike a smooth floor, walking on uneven ground requires you to stay on the balls of your feet and use more of the leg muscles. This enables you to quickly move in any direction to maintain balance.
Prior to starting an outdoor workout routine, consult your primary care physician, or if you’re working with one, a physical therapist, to determine your capabilities. When exercising outdoors, go with a friend or family member and take your cellphone in case you need help. If you must exercise alone, tell someone where you’ll be and when you expect to be back. Then, check in.
Before setting out, do some warmup activities, like bringing your knee to your chest, extending your leg straight out in from of you, or kicking it to the side. Also, it’s important to wear appropriate footwear, such as hiking boots or shoes, when walking on difficult terrain.
“We recently hiked Ricketts Glen, a state park with a series of beautiful waterfalls,” Graham said. “Large rock slabs served as steps up and down the sloping banks of the stream. Spray from the waterfalls made the rocks very slippery. I was glad that I had worn hiking shoes, but many people had the most inappropriate footwear. I was concerned that they might fall.”
Sneakers may be sufficient for many trails, and preferable if you’re running, but make sure they have adequate treads and support. Also, especially when it’s hot, wear moisture-wicking clothing to stay cool and dry and prevent overheating and heat stroke. Clothing that wicks tends to be made of synthetic fabric, and the manufacturer usually identifies its wicking properties. Although cotton can be lightweight, it holds moisture and should be avoided if you expect to work up a sweat.
“Speaking of perspiration, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids when exercising, especially on hot days,” Graham says. “You should drink eight ounces of water or sports drink for every 15 minutes of exercise. If you drink a sports drink, dilute it with water, either in a one-to-one ratio or one part sports drink to two or three parts water. Some people like to drink as they exercise but I prefer to do so afterwards.”
To maximize the effect of your walk or run, Graham suggests interval training, regardless of your age. When going for a walk, for example, increase the intensity by jogging or walking at a fast pace for 15 seconds. Then, walk at a normal pace for a minute-and-a-half. Over time, increase both the pace and duration of the higher-intensity exercise period.
“Interval training provides a better overall cardiovascular benefit, burns more calories for the time invested, and increases your overall functional capacity,” he says.
After exercise, it’s critical to stretch the muscles to reduce the effect of muscle soreness. If you develop pain after exercise, place ice on the area to reduce swelling or it could become inflamed, he says. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water to replace what was lost by sweating.
When participating in potentially more dangerous sports, such as biking, kayaking, and canoeing, follow the law and safety rules, wear proper safety gear, and use common sense, Graham advises. “If you’re moving at a faster rate than your body can move on its own, wear a helmet.”