Body and brain are “activated”

dr Martin Rinio: Hiking is one of the most gentle endurance sports and can therefore also be practiced at an advanced age. However, people with heart or circulatory problems, as well as those who are very overweight or have asthma, should choose a slow walking pace (otherwise the latter are at risk of developing asthma from exertion). If necessary, take medication with you and always ask your doctor beforehand.

Hiking should be avoided if you have significant joint problems or acute inflammation, but also if you have a cold or severe pain (e.g. in your back or knees). Osteoarthritis patients should avoid steep paths and forced marches.

Even with the onset of osteoarthritis of the knee, hiking is recommended – assuming moderate and not too long distances. If the patellofemoral joint (behind the kneecap) is affected, walking downhill is particularly painful. In this case, it is therefore better to always choose flat tours with only a few meters in altitude and few descents (e.g. panoramic trails, etc.).

Why is hiking considered so healthy for body and mind?

Rinio: Hiking literally makes you mobile: about 70 percent of all muscles in the body are set in motion during a brisk walk or hike. But not only muscles, bones and joints benefit. The brain is also positively activated: Experts have calculated that even a short hike boosts blood flow to certain brain regions by up to a third. The result is not long in coming: there is a significant increase in concentration and memory. In addition, the better blood circulation leads to a higher release of endorphins, which improves mood and happiness.

But that’s not all: studies show that walking a lot also reduces the risk of serious illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, heart attack, diabetes, depression or a stroke. After a short time, regular hikes often lead to a significant drop in body weight, blood pressure and body fat. In addition, running in nature increases physical performance – even in old age.

When it comes to fitness, should you prepare for hiking?

Rinio: Regular strength training is extremely helpful in preparation. This protects the joints during the hike. It is advisable to train your balance at the same time. A balance board at home, for example, is suitable for this.

How important is the right equipment when hiking?

Rinio: The equipment should be perfect from head to toe. Suitable hiking equipment primarily includes ankle- and non-slip shoes. The shoes should be robust, breathable and not too heavy. Please make sure that the shaft is above ankle level (this reduces the risk of spraining). The heel must be firmly in place. A sole with a lot of tread provides a secure grip on rough terrain.

Breathable clothing is also recommended. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed caps protect you from the intense sun at high altitude (do not forget sunscreen with a high sun protection factor!). As a precaution, pack light rain gear even when the weather is nice.

An anatomically shaped backpack offers space for provisions (ideally whole grain products, drinking bottle, vegetables and fruit) and hiking equipment including rain and sun protection. When packing, think carefully about what you really need to take with you – and stow it all away systematically. Because the weight distribution determines the center of gravity of the backpack – and this should be as close as possible to the body. Good back padding and a padded waist belt pay off.

What are the most common mistakes when hiking?

Rinio: Many a beginner just marches on without much knowledge. Perfect preparation is the be-all and end-all of relaxing tours without any nasty surprises. This begins with meticulous planning of the route using good maps and/or GPS.

Mistakes are also often made in the equipment. It should be clear to everyone, for example, that you can’t do without the right footwear.

Beginners in particular often overestimate themselves: Long trails with high levels of difficulty are only for experienced hikers with routine. And also keep a moderate pace: Sweating a little is okay, but if you start panting, it’s too much of a good thing. As a beginner, you should always warm up slowly for the first 30 or 40 minutes.

dr Martin Rinio is Medical Director of the Gundelfingen Joint Clinic. A treatment focus of the specialist in orthopaedics, surgery and trauma surgery are hip joints and endoprostheses.

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