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Aging Hikers and
Muscle Strength

Aging hikers face many changes in their trail hardened bodies.

Some of them are challenges: inflammation and injuries.

Here's one that's correlated with aging, but which can be slowed down by simply doing the thing we love (you did say hiking, right?)

Did you guess that it would be related to your muscles?


Aging hikers lose muscle mass

I'm talking about loss of skeletal muscle mass over time.

Ever seen the cells which are responsible for getting you out and back again?

Notice how there's a cozy relationship between the skeletal muscle cells (also called "fibers") and the fat cells.

That has to do with their jobs.

Skeletal muscle cells will shorten or lengthen, depending upon what you are doing on the hiking trail:

  • lifting your foot,
  • stretching to reach an overhanging ripe juicy berry,
  • or pulling a long stretch of uphill hiking.
Hiker wearing green backpack hiking up a snow field


Fat cells store energy, and will release that energy when given the correct chemical signals.

Who needs the energy?

You guessed it, the neighboring muscle cells...

which translates into the energy you feel and call upon when you're hiking.

This is all well and good in a young, active hiker's body.

But if that hiker stops hiking and passes the 30 year mark or so, the skeletal muscle cells begin to be replaced by fat cells (and some ropey connective tissue).

Will ex-hikers notice this?

You bet!

  • Muscle tone decreases, so they begin to look and feel flabby.
  • They notice a lack of endurance if they have to walk very far.
  • Reflexes may slow down.
  • And the numbers on the bathroom scale are creeping upward, as the heavy fat is replacing the leaner muscle.

Please slow down this unwanted trend, aging hikers!

So to slow down this unwanted conversion of muscle into fat as an aging hiker, stay active!

  • Keep hiking at your regular pace but perhaps increase your distance on each hike.
  • Work out every other day.
  • Get down on the floor and do some crunches to break up your TV viewing habits. A solid core translates into less back pain on the trail.
  • Try a low cost class: dance, skate, swim, bike - anything aerobic and giving your major muscle groups a new challenge.
  • Go for hour long walks on days when you can't hike or work out. Dog walking gives your upper body something to do along with your legs. And look for some hills to make it more demanding.
  • Do some moderate weight training. Start with a few pounds in each hand, and work up to 8 or 10 pound weights. This will definitely make putting on a heavy pack much easier!

In other words, every day give your body plenty of excuses to burn some of that stored energy (i.e. fat) and keep your skeletal muscle cells plentiful.


Good news for mature hikers!

Bottom line for hikers over the age of 30:

Endurance and strength training can reverse, or at least slow down, loss of muscle performance associated with aging.

And that is truly great news for aging or elder hikers!

Use it as one more motivator to get out on that trail and have a great time.


Home page > Types of Hiking > Aging Hikers



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