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Strong Hiking Bones

Strong hiking bones are a treasure.

And you built that treasure during childhood and adolescence as you consumed minerals such as calcium and magnesium.

But just like any treasure, it can be depleted, and should be replenished regularly.

Answer truthfully:

When was the last time you thought about your skeleton?

  • Maybe it was near Halloween, and the association between skeletons and being scared made you shiver a bit.

But let's make a different scary association: losing bone mass as you age, leading to fractures or falls on the hiking trail.

For menopausal women, this topic is very important.

We older hikers want to stay on the trail and have confidence in our ability to hoist packs, navigate safely through all sorts of terrain, and avoid accidents or injury due to weak bones.

So in the interest of strong hiking bodies, let's go over a few bare bones facts.

Strong hiking bones: the facts

BONES come in a variety of shapes and sizes in your body, based on where they're located and the jobs they must do:

  • protection,
  • attachment sites for muscles,
  • safe resting places for soft tissues such as eyes,
  • reservoirs for marrow to replenish blood cells 24/7.

You have 206 bones in your skeleton - a treasure indeed!

You inherited the genetic code for your bones from your parents.

You built bone mass throughout your early years.

And you enjoyed the strength and resilience of your skeleton throughout your youth and child bearing years.

But maybe things are changing in your body now.

  • Hormonal levels are fluctuating as you go through pregnancy, mid-life, menopause and beyond.
  • Your flexibility and resiliency are decreasing.
  • Your diet and activity level may be changing, too.

How are you going to protect your bony treasure?

So glad you asked!

Keys to strong hiking bones

There are two keys to strong hiking bones, and you're probably already aware of both of them:

Nutrition and exercise.

Keeping your bone density high involves a steady supply of particular dietary minerals: calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Read about those here.

Of course, the picture is more complicated.

Vitamins such as vitamin D, for instance, are necessary for bone health.

If you're serious about strong hiking bones, consult a trained nutritionist for a customized diet plan. It's a great investment in your health.

Assuming you hike regularly, you're probably getting lots of weight bearing exercise. The more you walk with a pack on, the stronger your bones get.

Pretty simple, right?

Female hiker wearing a green pack and taking a photograph with a cameraStrong hiking bones are the result of carrying a pack!

How to avoid bone problems

Now a few words about avoiding bone problems on the hiking trail.

I'm speaking strictly for myself when I say that I've noticed a definite decline in how limber I feel.

I'm over the age of 50 (way over!), and I no longer wake up after a long cold night in my favorite sleeping bag without feeling my bones creak.

So I'm careful about certain things.

For instance, I make sure that I LOOK before I leap, hop, jump, scramble or descend on the trail.

  • I want to know that my footing is solid, and that I have something to grab onto to or use for balance (my hiking poles are always in my hands).

I don't take chances with my feet or legs while crossing streams, talus slopes, or snow fields. Again, my poles come in handy as I use them to probe ahead of me.

I'm very cautious, and that means I'm slower than I used to be. And I can live with that.

Broken bones are going to sideline me from my hiking agenda, so I am going to do everything in my power to avoid that, even if it earns me the nickname "slowpoke".

Another thing I do is stretch frequently during a hike. This keeps my joints warmed up but not overly tight as I'm bearing the weight of my pack against gravity.

Mobile joints ensure proper function from the bones.

I'm trying to motivate myself to do a few stretches on days when I'm not hiking.... no luck so far. I always use the "too busy" excuse.

But I am really going to work on staying limber over the next few months. Pilates or yoga classes have been known to help with this, and there are some low cost offerings at local community centers.

  • With senior citizen discounts, no less ;)

Muscles and bones:
a strong friendship

Keeping muscles strong leads naturally to strong hiking bones.

  • As a muscle contracts, it tugs against its anchor point, creating normal stress on the bone.
  • The bone(s) will remodel and get stronger if the muscular tug increases, which is why working my muscles hard for at least 30 minutes every day pays huge dividends for my bones.
  • Favorite approaches: Endurance exercises, weight training, swimming, vigorous vacuuming and house cleaning, walking uphill with a light pack.

I don't exactly enjoy working out every day, but I do enjoy knowing what it does for my bones and muscles.

Of course, there's can be too much stress in some circumstances, and a bone can bend, twist, or snap.

Younger bones can bend, while older bones don't have that resilience.

Your first aid training should include what to do for bone fractures. Here are some of the basics.

Commit to strong hiking bones

Strong hiking bones boils down to a mental commitment to your sport: Hiking requires strong bones and muscles, but that in turn requires mindful eating and exercising properly.

And the good news?

By hiking, you're staying strong and healthy!

Every hike you take makes you stronger.

How many other things you do in the course of a year can claim those benefits?

So promise me that you will:

  • open wide for those great nutrients,
  • carve out some every day for movement,
  • stretch like a cat at every opportunity, and
  • smile when you think of your healthy hiking bones :)

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