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The very best exercise for health and happiness in our later years is walking.  And better even than walking is hiking.

It is a pleasant way to keep a variety of muscles limber and strong for better balance to catch ourself whenever we totter on the verge of a tumble.

Hiking also gives us a good cardio-vascular work-out to help prevent heart problems.  And even if we do have heart issues our body becomes strong enough for quicker recovery.

Despite open-heaert surgery and atrial fibrillation, I’ve managed to keep healthy-enough and active-enough to truly enjoy life more now at 89 than I any other time in my life.

(Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.)

Here are some things I’ve found helpful in developing the habit of taking regular hikes.  If are one who keeps on resolving you are going to hike more often, but never get around to it, these suggestions may help.


Keep your hiking gear ready for instant departure.

For daily hiking you do not need anything more than a comfortable pair of sneakers and appropriate clothing for the weather.

I leave my hiking sneakers in my truck along with a bottle of water and my hiking stick.

I take a good swig of water before I get out of the car, leave the bottle there, change into my hiking sneakers, pick up my hiking stick and step off onto the trail.  Yes, for longer hikes you will want to carry a pack, but not on every-day hikes.

I’m presuming for everyday hikes you’ll be on the trail not much more than an hour, possibly two, at the most.  So take a good swig of water before you begin your hike as well as one afterwards.  You really do not need an energy bar, sandwich, or even water for that length of time.

If you are more needy, then have these either before or after your hike. But don’t burden yourself by carrying them with you while hiking.


Keep all you need for a day hike stowed in your car all the time.

That keeps you ready to hike at any time, anywhere.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve driven someplace and found there was a great walk to take either on a trail, nature path, or even sidewalk.

I’ve visited friends for example, who’ve at the spur of a moment suggested we take a walk through a neighboring woodland nature preserve.

Just this past year I visited my friend, Jim Kern, at his North Carolina mountain cottage.

It turned out there were numerous hikes and walks we took, in local park, a nature preserve, National Forest, and downtown.

I was prepared, as was he.

It can even be in a city.  How many times I’ve visited different friends in San Francisco and enjoyed long walks by Fisherman’s Wharf, the Embarcadero and Pacific Palisades Park.

And with my nephews Kenn and Randy wandering San Diego’s wharfs as fishermen come in with their daily catch .


For longer hikes keep a daypack loaded with the essentials —

Water bottles, sunscreen, jackknife, tissues, energy bars, plastic trash bags, and rain jacket.  Be sure to have map and compass or GPS if you are going into unfamiliar territory.

All you need to get out on the trail then is to fill the water bottles, add a sandwich and piece of fruit and you’re ready for a longer day hike on which you’ll find a great place to stop for lunch before hiking back out.

I take a large black trash bag to sit on while eating lunch and smaller trash bags for my lunch litter and any trash I pick up along the trail.  Thus, I am ready for a longer hike without a lot of last minute rustling around to be sure you have everything.


Monitor your heart rate.

Be serious and realistic.  There is a maximum rate your heart should reach for your age level.  A simple way of calculating it is to subtract your age from 220, according to the American Heart Association recommendations.

Heart rate during moderately intense activities should be limited to about 50-69% of your maximum heart rate.

Whereas heart rate during hard physical activity is about 70% to less than 90% of the maximum heart rate.The figures are averages, so use them as general guidelines.

Thus, at age 65 your max would be 155 beats per minute.  So for moderate exercise you should keep it to about 78 to 132 beats per minute.

At 70 your max should be 150 beats per minute, with moderate exercise held to 75 to 128 beats per minute.

Since I’m 88 my max is 132, with 66 to 102 beats per minute.

These are average numbers.  If you are in better physical condition, used to aerobic training, then you can push these up a bit.

I take my heart rate whenever I notice I am breathing hard from a bit of strenuous climb or pace.  At that time I can usually feel its beat in my neck and head.

If I put the tips of my fingers alongside my neck it is not difficult to find my pulse.  I watch the second hand on my watch and count my heart beat for six seconds, add a zero to the count and that is my heart rate.

I usually stop and rest a bit when it rises above 110 and not start hiking agaom until it settles down to about 100.

You can calculate what your maximum ought to be and what is safe range for your heart to beat on the trail.


Don’t obsess over having the “right” clothing, gear or boots.

All you really need is what I wear — denim jeans and shirt, Merino Rag Wool socks (two pair for $20 at LLBean) and sneakers.  I always wear a wide brim hat, not a baseball cap.

One of the biggest risks to hikers’ is skin cancer caused by direct sun.  I wear long pants, and long sleeve shirts to be sure I cut down on the exposure to sun.

These precautions are particularly important in any higher altitude locations where you hike. By higher elevations, I mean above 4,000 feet.  Go out  hiking to enjoy yourself, not to be concerned about what other people think.


Let faster hikers pass with no self-criticism.

There’ll always be faster hikers than you.  Let them pass. Do not to be concerned.

You are not out there to compare yourself with anyone else.  Comparison destroys comfort.

And if you are fifty or older you are not twenty-one any more.  Get over it.

The kids are always going to be able to outdo us.  And now there are a number of youngsters who are trail runners.  This is important.  You do not need to compare yourself with another person — ever!


Give yourself permission to stop whenever and as often as you like.

If for a breather, take your heartbeat, take a photo, admire a view, or check out the wildflowers.

I’ve often spent time examining animal tracks on trails.  I

f you can’t enjoy yourself on a hike, why not take up a different physical exercise plan.

I hate spas and gyms.  But a lot of people enjoy them.  Just far too boring for me.  But if you like that better than hiking for goodness sake go there.  But, if you are going to hike, then enjoy it.


One of my favorites, the Santa Barbara Trail in the Pecos Wilderness.

he Santa Barbara Trail in the Pecos Wilderness

he Santa Barbara Trail in the Pecos Wilderness

Develop a habit of thanking God first thing upon awaking for being alive another day.

It gives me a good attitude to face whatever comes along during the rest of the day.

I recall a film biography of my favorite opera diva, Maria Callas.  That poor sweetheart suffered so at the end of her life that she cursed fate for needing to be alive another day.  I can’t imagine how horrid that would be.

I can only vouch for what has worked for me, though I’ve heard similar results from friends of mine.   Don’t knock until you’ve tried it.  I mean really tried it.


Remind yourself often that this might actually be the last day of your life.

My best friend, Lou Perez, used to say, “You never know what’s going to happen in the next fifteen minutes.”

Lou is a physician and he spoke from years of emergency room observations and as a radiologist.

We will never get the opportunity to live this day again.  It is unique.  And the longer you live the more you will hear news of someone you know finding out how “the next fifteen minutes” turned into a tragic death, severe accident or illness.

Enjoy this day as best you can.

I’m putting together a book on hiking for geezers.  I have in mind a handbook on geezer hiking.  I’d love to hear what sort of information you would like to see in such a book. Drop me an email direct to BackpackerBill@taosnet.com.

Or use the form below.  I promise I’ll answer every message I receive.

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