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I seem to be hiking these days with a lot of old Cardiac Geezers.

Of course we are still hiking after our tickers acted up and enjoying it.

So if you are one of us you may be interested in how this old geezer still hikes – rather than just walks – after several bouts with the heart including by-pass surgery.

I’m going to say a few things that your doctor may not advise.

I’m not a doctor and these are only rules that I follow.

So be cautious.

Justus and I resting at the end of Vista Verde Trail.

 

  1. Be sure you take your nitro along as well as other critical meds.

Years ago when I was still macho I didn’t carry my nitros.

And just three months after heart surgery I was backcountry skiing at 12,000 feet in the Rockies.

That was dumb. I was real lucky.

So on this: don’t do as I do; and only cautiously do as I say.

After a few more bouts with my ticker, I got more serious and take a nitro at the slightest discomfort in my chest or shortness of breath when my heart rate is in a normal range.

Of course I am sure to take along any other critical meds I may need on the trail.

Since I’m also diabetic I need to have some Lifesavers in my pocket for low sugar levels.

Low sugars are really more dangerous than high sugar levels.

 

Steve and Dana Sigmond, Joy and Bill take a rest on the Columbine Trail

 

2. Develop a good hiking routine and rest often.

Hike (or take a good walk) at least three times a week. I try to hike every day.

That gives me a good week of hiking even when “things” interrupt the schedule keeping me from getting out on a trail.

You do not even have to hike on a trail. Just take a decently long walk of at least a half hour anywhere you can take a walk.

And the good thing about this is you need not equipment or clothing for it.

I was just back in New York visiting my kids and grandkids.

I found that walking to and from the subway; down and back up the subway stairs, was a good daily workout.

 

3. Hike even when you don’t want to hike.

This is the best rule to follow to develop a firm hiking habit.

My rule of thumb is to set a target that is ridiculously easy to achieve. No matter what.

And I give myself permission to not go any farther than this target if I still do not feel like hiking when I reach that target.

At first my target was our front door.

No matter how I felt, I could always go to the front door and step outside. And should I still not want to hike, it was okay to skip it.

I kept stretching that target a bit farther away.

“Going and getting into the car” was an easy one.

Then I stretched it to “driving to the trailhead.”

And after awhile it was to “hike at least a hundred paces on the trail.”

At each of these targets I honestly gave myself permission to stop and not go farther if I still did not want to hike that day.

It worked for me, because I set really easy targets.

And I kept my word to myself – do not go if you don’t feel like it.

 

4. You don’t need a hiking partner

Don’t make your “taking a hike” dependent upon hiking with someone else, your friend or spouse for example.

You will soon break your habit if you do.

Whenever the day comes, and it will come, that your hiking partner is not able or willing to hike that day.

It will be all too easy for you to find a ready excuse why you won’t want to go as well.

Getting a regular systematic habit of hiking (or at least walking) is a life-saver for us Cardiac Geezers.

We are seriously impaired and the worst can happen if we don’t stick to a regular hiking or walking routine.

I like to think that every day I hike I am adding another high quality day to my life.

 

5. Don’t be fussy about where you will hike

As you see, I’m using the word hike loosely.

Since I’m living in the Southwest hiking means walking on a mountain or desert trail.

So hiking for me actually is on a trail, even though the trail may be easier than walking on the sidewalks of New York.

In The City though I just walked out the front door and “hiked” on the sidewalks.

But at times I could also hike in Central Park, Prospect Park, the Bronx Zoo, the Botanical Gardens. The options are endless. And I did lots of hiking back there.

Actually, the stairs up and down at subway stops – without escalator or elevator – gave me “hiking” similar to what I now get out here on New Mexico trails.

 

6. Do not pay attention to all the physical fitness advice.

I mean do not try to speed-walk or work up an aerobic pace of your walk or hike.

That’s okay for youngsters, but suicide for us Cardiac Geezers.

Easy does it.

Just get up and walk awhile at a comfortable pace.

You’ll find, like me, the more I hike, the more I want to hike.

I guarantee that you will want to hike too if you are enjoying it as much as me and my Cardiac Geezer friends.

Jack Connell and I have a chat on our rest stop on the South Boundary Trail

7. Pay careful attention to how you feel while hiking.

This can be tricky.

The side-effects of some of my meds can suddenly make me feel strange — depressed, headachy, gaseous, light-headed, woozy, even dizzy — a whole plethora of strange feelings that come and go at whim.

But it is important to take even these symptoms as if your heart is causing them.

The other day I was out with my wife and dog on an easy trail.

Just a few days before, I hiked 7-1/2 miles on this trail, feeling chipper.

This time though, while I felt good and strong in the beginning and was fully enjoying the hike, taking a rest after just three miles and heading back out, I suddenly I began feeling “funny.”

I checked my pulse.

It was in the low 90s, a perfectly safe range for me.

My breathing though was heavier than usual.

I rested a bit longer.

When I started hiking again though, I felt woozy.

My first impulse was to dismiss these symptoms as reactions from my meds.

But then a bit later common sense took over.

I stopped for another rest and waited for my heart rate to get even closer to normal.

Tthe symptoms did not go away.

So I took a nitro.  That helped.

As I started hiking again though, I felt weak, a bit light-headed, and a slight heaviness in my chest.

So I popped another nitro and again rested awhile.

I did not want my wife to wait so patiently for me. For with her waiting, my testosterone wanted me to “man up” and get on with it.

Being but a mile from our car, I asked her to go on ahead and wait for me where it would be more comfortable.

She was hesitant, of course. But knowing me, she eventually left.

Thoughts ran through my head about what might be going on.

I hate that sort of thinking, for it leads to more downbeat fantasies.

Nonetheless, I chose caution.

When my heart got down to my at-rest rate, I decided it would be wisest if I continued walking, but at a very, very slow pace.

I walked just fast enough to be moving, but slow enough to keep my heart rate as close to normal as possible.

There were two small hills I had to climb.  Each caused my heart to beat faster of course.  I took the hills very, very slowly.

I had to laugh, for I saw myself acting “the old man” that I actually am!

In time, I finished the hike and felt a good bit better.  My pulse came back to normal. And my wooziness had been whisked away.

As I said earlier, the symptoms probably had nothing to do with my heart, but rather reactions to one of my meds.

Whatever.

I had chosen a “better safe than sorry” attitude.

Perhaps I may still be alive for having done so!

Who knows?

A physician friend with whom I often backpacked, used to say, “You never know what is going to happen in the next fifteen minutes.”

This was the only time I’ve ever felt so weird while hiking.

It’s prompted me to write this post.

Perhaps there may be some helpful suggestions for your continued hiking, especially if you are one of us Nitro-carrying Geezers.

 

My kid sister, Joanie, spotted one of those perfect places to take a rest here on the Williams Lake Trail.

 

  1. Take advice from cardiologists with a grain of salt. But do take it.

They are going to be overly cautious in our lawsuit-happy times.

In their list of “don’t do this; don’t do that’s” hiking falls somewhere in the middle.

So, what I do may not work for you.

I’m telling you about it, assuming you will use your own common sense and know what you can and cannot do.

Your cardiologist is also always going tell you that it is essential for you to walk at least fifteen minutes to half an hour every day.

So, I take that as permission to work myself up into condition to do increasingly more difficult walking or even hiking.

To be fair, moderation is my by-word.

Whenever pushing myself, I frequently measure my heart rate, especially whenever I’m climbing steeper grades.

And I take a good rest until the rate comes back down to an acceptable range before continuing the hike.

 

9. Do’s and don’ts about checking your heart rate

Forget about the latest electronic heart-measuring device.

I’m sure that there are some really good ones out there.

But, I have friends who’ve used various types of these monitors – from the wristwatch to the ones strapped to the chest — and every one has given false readings in the danger zone.

Each time I checked their numbers against my Cardiac Geezer Method, we found they gave false readings, which indicated safe heart rates much slower than they actually were.

We Cardiac Geezers just cannot take those chances.

The most accurate measurement you can make is to follow the Mayo Clinic suggestion that I will quote.

“Check your pulse over your carotid artery.

Place your index and middle fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe.

When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of beats in 10 seconds.

Multiply this number by 6 to get your heart rate per minute.”

I personally find it quicker and easier to count the pulse for six seconds and then add a zero.

For instance, when I count 9 beats in six seconds and add a zero I know my pulse is 90.

 

Not yet a senior, nor cardiac geezer, while resting in Chaco Canyon, my wife Joy takes time for a little meditation.

 

10. How to calculate the safe pulse rate for your age

There is a rule-of-thumb measure of what our maximum heart rate ought to be.

And by safe, I mean using your own personal assessment of your physical condition.

If you are honest with yourself, you will know much more than your doctor knows about what you are and are not capable of doing. I believe in my internal barometer of what my body will do.

And I err on the safer side — ALWAYS.

The American Heart Association gives a way to assess your heart’s capacity.

Find out what it is and use it.

Subtract your age from 220 to determine your absolute maximum heart rate for your age.

Mine is 220 minus 90 equaling 130.

But I never want my heart to reach that number.

The next calculation is based upon a very subjective evaluation of our physical condition.

I’m in pretty good shape since I hike just about every day.

Hence I set my target at 85 percent of that 130 max, which is110.

When I stop, as I frequently do on every hike, I check my heart rate to be sure it stays within that range.

Another number I depend upon is my “at-rest heart rate.”  Mine is in the 50s.

I need to know that number for when I stop to check my heart rate and it is high I wait until my pulse comes back down near my at-rest rate.

Actually, so long as I am feeling good I allow it to be about twenty percent higher — for me, more in the high 80s.

You don’t necessarily want to do what I do.

Use your own judgment of your physical condition as well as your heart’s condition.

And err on the safe side.

At our age we aren’t out to set any records.

Here’s a quote from the American Heart Association on what I have just written:

During the first few weeks of working out, aim for the lower ranger of your target zone (50 percent) and gradually build up to the higher range (85 percent). After six months or more, you may be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

It means 50% of your maximum rate.  For me that would be 50% of 130, or 65.  Since I am in good physical condition I can well allow myself the 85% range of 110.

And here is the AHA warning for us Cardiac Geezers:

If you have a heart condition or you’re in cardiac rehab, talk to a healthcare professional about what exercises you can engage in, what your target heart rate should be and whether you need to be monitored during physical activity.  This will also help you to choose the types of physical activity that are appropriate for your current fitness level and health goals, because some activities are safer than others.

As I said earlier, I am not a doctor.  These are my rules for the Cardiac Geezer Bill.

However, I do believe if you take it as easy as I suggest you’ll probably do alright.  But to be safe, best you get your advice from a “healthcare professional” as AHA recommends.

And If we can just keep on keeping on enjoying what we’re doing, that is more than sufficient.

We’ll have a better quality of life for the little bit of life we have left!

Whatever.  Do get into walking at a gentle pace, if you can walk. No matter what.

 

3 Responses

  1. Paula Guerrein
    | Reply

    This is really wonderful to share your personal journey and tips for others. I have not seen an article on this subject for hikers, and many are getting “long in the tooth” as they say. Thanks, this is a real blessing to share with others!

    Paula Guerrein
    Hikanation participant

    • BackpackerBill
      | Reply

      Thanks Paula. As usual, so nice to hear from you.

  2. Mark Lenz
    | Reply

    I will remember these when I become a geezer Bill. Nice post.

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