Hiking is a favorite pastime for folks of all ages here in Durango. Whether it’s a quick and steep in-town hike or a long and likely more-steep hike in the vast San Juan and La Plata ranges surrounding us, you are likely to stumble upon other hikers on the trails enjoying the beautiful vistas, heart-pumping ascents, and quad-burning descents. This is especially true in the mid-summer months when the wild flowers are in full effect and the increase in altitude can offer a reprieve from the higher temperatures in town.
So, why am I bringing up hiking if we already know it’s a very popular activity in our neck of the woods? Well, you may have already realized from my previous blog posts that I love to learn about the greatest and latest research on many body-related topics. Due to my curiosity, I decided to look and see what kind of evidence is out there regarding one of my favorite activities. The good news is that I found an interesting study from a group of Austrian researchers that was published in 2015 regarding hiking and the effects on cardiovascular risk factors in an older population.1
The group of researchers followed a group of 14 men and 10 women in their mid-60s who participated in a 9-month hiking program.1 (Side note: For Durangoans, mid-60s is hardly considered elderly as the title of this study might suggest!) The program consisted of a single weekly hike that allowed the participants to reach a goal of approximately a 1,640 foot altitude gain within 3 hours.1 The participants were subject to a line-up of testing before and after the 9-month program in order to assess various factors of their cardiovascular health.1 The researchers found that there was no significant change in the cardiovascular profile of the participants before and after their weekly hiking program, however the group was found to be in good health before they even started the program.1 For those in the group that had untreated high blood pressure before they started the study, they had reduced blood pressure at the end of the 9 months indicating a positive change.1 The potential benefits of weekly hiking may have been more evident if there were more people in the group of participants that had sub-par cardiovascular health to begin with, but this was less evident in an already-healthy group.1
So, whether you are in good or bad cardiovascular shape, engaging in a weekly hike will certainly not harm you. Get out there and enjoy those flowers in the surrounding hills that we get to call home! If you are curious on how to begin safely hiking or continuing your current hiking program while keeping your body free of injuries, speak to a PT soon so they can help you figure out the best cardiovascular and strengthening plan for injury prevention.
- Gatterer H, Raab C, Pramsohler S, et al. Effect of weekly hiking on cardiovascular risk factors in the elderly. Z Gerontol Geriatr. 2016;48(2):150-3.