Hiking and Chronic Conditions: Is it Possible to Make it Work?

Hiking and Chronic Conditions
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By Caitlin Evans

I wasn’t always hooked on hiking as a form of physical exercise.

At first, my weekend excursions were about spending time with friends. We’d get up relatively early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and head to a nearby national park where we’d cover 5-10 miles, depending on the weather and route. But, it turned out, the more time I spent this way in nature, the more I realized how beneficial it was to my physical and mental health.

And that’s no surprise. After all, hiking offers a host of health benefits: it increases fitness, helps regulate blood sugar, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and promotes vitamin D absorption by getting you in the sun. Recent studies have also shown that active time spent in natural environments contributes to a lower risk of depression and helps manage anxiety and ADHD. Another key perk of hitting the trails is the fact that it gets us outdoors – away from our phones, computer screens, and all other sources of EMF we’re exposed to on a daily basis.

 

But what happens when your body is a bit more high-maintenance than average?

Chronic conditions can make even basic everyday activities into complicated undertakings.

According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, the number of Americans affected by autoimmune disease is a staggering 50 million. While some resources disagree with the AARDA’s estimations, the severity of the problem is never questioned. Seeing that these ailments can only be managed, and not cured, their impact on a person’s quality of life is rather significant.

Some of the most common chronic conditions include diabetes, asthma, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hormonal imbalances, and digestion issues. They can be set off by environmental irritants, lifestyle factors such as diet, or physical and mental stress, and often make physical activity painful and/or dangerous.

 

Is that to say that hiking is impossible if you have a chronic/autoimmune disease?

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Well, that really depends on a number of factors.

Sure, a lot of people will tell you that you can do absolutely anything you want, but embarking on a solo hike of the Appalachian trail probably isn’t the best idea.

Similarly, you’ll have those well-meaning souls who will advise you to stay cooped up and avoid risk at all costs. If you’re anything like me, even the idea of such a life is bound to drive you crazy.

That said, if you want to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of long nature walks, you’ll want to consult with your doctor first. Ask them whether there are any risks you need to be aware of. Go over the medicines and treatments you use to alleviate your symptoms and check whether physical activity can contribute to or take away from these.

Additionally, be prepared to receive an answer you may not be 100% satisfied with. Although managing a chronic condition can be frustrating, your number one priority should be to take care of your health, so that you can enjoy all the other activities you love.

 

Preparation is key

One of the most important things you should do is make sure you’ve taken all the necessary steps to prepare for your excursion. If you consider the challenges you might face, you’re more likely to be ready to tackle them than if they catch you by surprise.

Decide on a route a couple of weeks before your hike. If you’re a newbie, choose a trail that won’t be too difficult. This means not too long and not too technical. Pay special attention to elevation, as even a short walk will be made considerably more difficult if you have to do it uphill. Despite having a full day on your hands, you may want to choose a shorter route that will give you plenty of time to rest.

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Furthermore, pay attention to the weather and avoid going out in bad conditions, especially if it’s your first time in the woods. You’ll be much happier waiting for a couple of weeks than you would be if the whole thing happens to be too much for you to handle.

Like any other physical activity, hiking is a whole lot different experience when you’re well-rested, so make sure you go to bed early the day before your hike. It’s also very important that you listen to your body – if you notice any issues leading up to your trip, consider postponing.

After all, the point of hiking is to enjoy its benefits, not to aggravate your existing ailment to the point where you risk doing serious damage to your health.

 

Mind what you eat

There’s absolutely no question about the connection between nutrition and health. Not only does what you eat affect your overall wellbeing, but good dietary hygiene can significantly decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Furthermore, diet plays a key role in managing autoimmune diseases, and a great deal of research is being done on the role of the Western diet in AD.

If you have a chronic condition, you’re likely to already be on a certain dietary regime. If not, it’s not a bad idea to look into something like the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet, which has been shown to have a beneficial effect on managing the causes and symptoms of a number of chronic conditions. These include digestion problems, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, and heart health.

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Before you embark on your trek, make sure you’re eating well. This means high-quality foods rich in the macronutrients your body needs to function properly. Go with options such as meats, fish and seafood, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and plenty of good fats. Avoid carbohydrates (including sugar and artificial sweeteners) and dairy that can irritate the gut and cause digestion problems.

You’ll also want to ensure you pack your backpack with the right foods and snacks. This is particularly important for managing blood sugar levels, but also to ensure you have the energy to finish your hike. Of course, don’t forget to hydrate while on the go.

 

Become a pro at packing

If you’re going away for a period longer than a few hours, you’ll need to add packing to your to-do list. This can be just as tricky for experienced nature lovers as it is for newbies, considering that people either tend to underestimate or overestimate the equipment they need.

First things first: your medicine. Store it in a dry section of your backpack, but easy to reach in case of an emergency.

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Other than that, plan what you intend to carry with you in terms of food, clothing, and camping equipment. Don’t forget about sun protection, as well as insect-repellents if you’re backpacking in the summer.

Another important thing to consider is the weight of your backpack – carrying too much can put stress on your body, so you need to make sure you can handle it. Try to keep things as light as possible. If you’re going away for more than a couple of days, you might benefit from doing a few shorter test camping trips, so you’re certain you won’t be carrying unnecessary gear.

 

Create a support system

One of the best ways to stay safe in nature is to be accompanied by other people. A friend or family member who is aware of your chronic condition will know to pay closer attention to your soundness and can take any necessary actions in case of an emergency.

But, of course, not everyone knows a bunch of outdoorsy people. The solution to this can be joining a club or society.

Here, you can not only connect with nature enthusiasts who share your passion for walking in the countryside, but you can also receive valuable advice on outdoor-related topics. You can join tours led by professional guides or form your own group. Whichever you choose, you’re sure to establish valuable new connections, and may even walk away with newfound friends.

 

Know what to do in an emergency

Let’s not go into worst-case scenarios – I’m certain you’re well aware of those. But before you head out, make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency.

Always have with you a device you can use for communication, tell your friends and family that you’re going away (and it’s a good idea to share your route with them as well), and know the numbers of the emergency services you might need.

Another good idea is to talk to your doctor before heading out, as they may be able to give you emergency medication (such as a steroid if you suffer from asthma) you can carry with you.

 

Slow and steady wins the race

Image: depositphotos.com

No matter what your chronic condition, the majority of your prep for a hiking trip will be focused on ensuring that you’re safe and sound out there. Prevention is always more effective than symptom management, so it’s important that you don’t do more damage than good. With just a little bit of care and preparation, you can take on light to moderate hiking trips – without having to worry about them worsening your condition.

 

Guest Author

Caitlin is a bookworm and active-life aficionado. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various health, travel and adventure-related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu, and long walks.

27 thoughts on “Hiking and Chronic Conditions: Is it Possible to Make it Work?

  • January 9, 2020 at 3:32 pm
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    Great tips. I am not a huge fan of hiking but I also watch too many hiking movies that go wrong. I agree preperation is key. Slow and steady always helps.

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  • January 9, 2020 at 3:09 pm
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    It’s all about minding what you eat. Also, always consult your doctor. Make sure that you are following their advice, Exercise helps too.

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  • January 9, 2020 at 11:51 am
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    I love how you precisely encourage readers. My fave part is when you mentioned about hiking’s countless health benefits. I write about mental health and I believe that we are as happy as we make up our minds to be. The way we move our bodies, the mind will follow. So hiking def contributes to a lower risk of depression and anxiety.

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    • February 14, 2020 at 10:39 pm
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      Yes, it has plenty of benefits and helping with depression and anxiety are definitely some of them! 🙂

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  • January 9, 2020 at 3:32 am
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    This is such a motivating article. If you keep people away with chronic condition, they will feel more isolated. Let them be one of us, let them realize that they are not alone or can’t do whatever we can. I’m sure this article will help many of us.

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  • January 6, 2020 at 5:42 pm
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    I am a person with autoimmune disease, and sometimes it’s not easy to handle that during hiking and traveling. But I do my best to be an active person. Ailments have an impact on the quality of life. But it’s possible to be still an active person. Your hints are great. Preparation is the key. Diet is important too. And in my opinion, most important during a hike is to observe the signal of your body and rest often.

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  • January 6, 2020 at 2:20 pm
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    You are right about hiking being a great form of physical exercise. And once you start hiking, there is no looking back. You will fall in love with it. I am so glad that you spoke about hiking for people with chronic conditions. Yes, they need to be more careful about their food, surroundings and everything else. A good support system is very important. I think even for fully fit persons, it is good to hike with others rather than doing it all alone.

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  • January 6, 2020 at 1:23 pm
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    Thanks for the practical tips. I now have this post to show whenever my travelling companions tell me they can’t hike. There’s always a trail for everyone!

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  • January 6, 2020 at 6:09 am
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    This is quite an encouraging post. Yes, its very important to know your body, listen to it, prepare accordingly and create a support system. I know I have breathing issues and therefore I keep to easier treks but of course I want to practice to do better. One should be well informed and ready to act in emergency, just as you mentioned.

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  • January 5, 2020 at 6:32 pm
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    Great post!! I always loved reading traveling related posts about some medical conditions, because it is quite inspiring to see people with different medical conditions to travel, in fact, it is quite inspiring.

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  • January 5, 2020 at 11:49 am
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    This is very informative, I’ve personally never been camping – but I love how you break it down so that even those who think they’ll never get to experience this due to illnesses, can enjoy it as well, despite their limitations.

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  • January 5, 2020 at 9:02 am
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    I’ve had osteoarthritis for so long, I never got into hiking. But it’s great to read tips to help people overcome these mobility and health issues to still be able to enjoy this activity. I think you are right that preparation, and being realistic and not overly ambitious, will help to make the experience more enjoyable.

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  • January 4, 2020 at 5:28 am
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    I love hiking, although I’m not a fast or long distance hiker and I’m not super-fit so I’m living proof that almost anyone can do it! I found your advice to be timely and relevant for anyone looking to make hiking their new hobby – not just for those with chronic conditions. Without planning and preparation you’re far more likely to have a bad experience that’ll put you off hiking for life, so your excellent step by step guide to getting started is essential reading for anyone wanting to get started!

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  • January 4, 2020 at 5:03 am
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    This is a really good post. I think people who suffer from chronic pain will be happy to know they can still hike just with some precautions

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  • January 4, 2020 at 2:35 am
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    I think there are many things that people with chronic conditions can do. It’s all about moderation and knowing your limits.

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  • January 4, 2020 at 1:53 am
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    My husband and I suffer from chronic illness which mostly confines us to our home. We dream of being able to enjoy the outdoors like we did before. I think the best way is to first check with our doctors if we would be allowed to engage in such activity. Thank you for your tips. At least you gave me a glimmer of hope that hiking may still be possible.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 5:38 pm
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    This is such a good positive post and one to say if you got a condition, don’t let it get you down and get out there (if possible). I got friends who have conditions which sometimes can let them down but when they can, they do hike as well and they are amazing how long they can keep going for each day and not let their condition get them down.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 4:45 pm
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    this is super informative, and very helpful specifically for those with chronic pain

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  • January 3, 2020 at 4:19 pm
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    Love all of these tips, Definitely agree that preparation is key. Going with someone that has done the trail before helps too so you know what to expect in terms of hills and gullies can make the world of difference.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 4:10 pm
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    Such a great post. I have chronic migraine so hiking sometimes is difficult for me, but I go hiking once in a while. It feels good and refreshing walking around in nature.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 12:31 pm
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    Oh I would live to get myself more into hiking! I really do love being outdoors!

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    • February 14, 2020 at 10:36 pm
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      Good luck, I hope you will! 🙂

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  • January 3, 2020 at 9:42 am
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    Yeah…I believe it is very possible to make it work! One way that will surely get you there is watching what you eat! It has saved me a lot of pain-staking journeys to the doctor and toilet.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 8:29 am
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    One needs to have an adventurous soul and an urge to get out of the comfort zone to accomplish such challenges.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 4:32 am
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    Such a great post! I’m not even physically active and I feel inspired to hike. I’ve only done it twice but I tried to keep pace with those around me. Epic fail and I didn’t pack #Welp I will take your advice of being prepared and pacing myself and see how that goes because I truly love to be outdoors.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 1:32 am
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    A very informative post. Just because a person has a chronic condition doesn’t mean they can’t get out and enjoy the outdoors. With your tips, anyone can follow your advice and enjoy a nice, peaceful hike.

    Reply

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