My dad is in his early 70s and suffers from gout. His feet swell in pain and all he can do is sit on the couch, wrap his feet with medicinal herbs, and wait for a good day when he’s not hurting to get outside. When he’s around the family, he pretends to be a model of healthy living in retirement. But we can see in the slow way he walks and drags his heels that he’s hurting. His shoes are permanently replaced with house slippers two sizes too big to accommodate the gout, but those slippers have taken him to places they weren’t designed to go.
By accident, we discovered that after he went on a hike, his feet felt better. His blood circulation improved, the swelling went down, and he was able to walk taller and feel stronger. Our hiking group usually consisted of two slow(er), chatty 5-year-olds who wanted to pick up every stick on the trail, so our pace was comfortable for my dad. Most times, however, he hiked ahead, and we had to catch up. Hiking became his remedy when he was feeling his worst physically … but I’m sure the time spent with the grandkids also lifted his spirits.
In fact, not only does he feel stronger and more confident on the trail, he makes each hike his personal best. He doesn’t need the latest hiking gear … just a sunhat, water bottle in hand and his house slippers. He has hiked over jagged rocks and roots, muddy trails through the woods; slowly made his way into high elevation above the tree lines of the Rockies; and scrambled up the smooth, slippery terrain of Stone Mountain in Georgia.
Health benefits aside, our family hikes are a great excuse for getting the extended family together, which guarantees time with grandchildren. With our busy schedules between work, school and activities, hiking encourages the grandkids to play and explore with their grandparents without reservations.
The benefits of being active
What we realized through my dad’s experience – which the medical industry continues to remind us – is that age shouldn’t restrict anyone from having an active lifestyle. The benefits are so vast that we should all strive to encourage the generations to get out and hike together –regardless of the age gap.
1. Promotes health benefits
- Sharpens the mind: On the trail, your brain constantly processes the range of simultaneous “activities” going on, so it keeps your senses alert as it’s necessary to be aware of your surroundings for safety measures. You hear sounds on the trail from animals running through the woods, rain hitting foliage, talking in the distance, rolling thunder and more that enhance your hearing. You elevate your sense of smell by smelling the dirt following a rainstorm or the flowers that pop up along the trail. And your eyes also get a workout while focusing on things near and far during the hike.
- Builds strength: As bones get more brittle, keeping an active lifestyle builds strength and helps exercise muscles. Older bones get a workout to awaken tired muscles and keep the heart pumping and circulating blood; and young kids build stamina and self-confidence on the trail while walking over fallen trees, rocks and jumping over puddles.
- Improves mood: For grandparents, being surrounded by their grandchildren is the best kind of medicine for a healthy heart. (Actually, EVERYONE can use a dose of happy from being in nature.) Whether it’s just for an hour, an overnight stay or summer break, grandkids bring an energy with their youthfulness that grandparents cherish.
My grandpa comes on HIB hikes with me frequently. He is 85 years old. Five years ago, before I had kids, we did a backpacking camp trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to camp for a few days. It’s 10 miles in and 10 miles out, and he beat me on the way out. This summer, I went with my three kids to Yellowstone and he hiked all over with us. He is an inspiration to me for sure! He is definitely feeling his age more these days but is super active and can hike 3-4 miles no problem still. –Joergi, Salt Lake City, UT, branch
2. Develops skills
- Boosts social skills: Spending time hiking together helps refine social skills and strengthen relationships. Grandparents who may feel lonely can have healthy interaction, while kids learn to accommodate other people’s needs besides their own (which helps build character). And as a result, you learn to tune in to each age group’s needs, including your own.
- Exercises coordination: There are many obstacles on the trail that can be challenging for some, such as rocks, roots, logs, branches and more. Hiking encourages hand, eye and feet coordination to prevent injury on the trail … and don’t forget the shoes for more stability!
- Encourages safe, risky play: Help kids explore their capabilities in nature by getting outside and testing their limits in a safe, structured non-structured way. To see grandpa climb, scramble and balance over rocks can inspire kids and make them feel more confident and even give them a boost in their steps. Likewise, grandparents who feel a bit shy about hiking and the challenges that come with it may find that instead of focusing on the obstacles, they like exploring with their littles and might even rediscover all their favorite memories of being a kid again!
We take a family vacation every year, pretty much for the hiking. Here’s my dad “helping” (verbal encouragement and spotting only) my son on a scramble. He has a knack for getting the kid to accomplish more than I ever can on trail! *Note the pic is from coming back UP the rocks. … Mom may have had to turn a blind eye to avoid having a heart attack on their way down. –Elizabeth, Gettysburg, PA, branch
3. Supports connections
- Nurtures relationships: It’s no secret that quality time spent together fosters healthy relationships. Make it a date – or a few dates – and bring the grandparents and grandchildren together to invest in some solid face time and make memories with each other they’ll treasure that will last a long time.
- Creates traditions: Every New Year’s Day, after our whole extended family makes up for the sleep lost from staying up late the night before, we meet up after lunch for an annual hike – all 15 of us. Everyone is in high spirits and ready to conquer a new year on the right foot. But you don’t have to wait for January 1 to start a tradition of hiking with the extended family. Grandparents Day is as good as any to start that tradition!
Every time we go back to Colorado, we get at least a few hikes in with my parents (both in their mid-60s). My mom usually leads the pack, and my dad carries the back (old habit from raising/corralling three rambunctious kiddos). My mom is leading the pack in this photo. –Rebecca, Adirondack, NY, branch
This Grandparents Day, nurture that multi-generational connection and spend some time together outside to unwind, enjoy the fresh air, and gain all the benefits that come with being in nature together as a family – no matter what kind of shoes you wear.
Does your family get together with the grands and spend time outside together? Let us know in the comments below!
- Nature babies: Why having young kids in nature is so important for their health
- Resist fear and embrace resilience: Kids and risk in the outdoors
- The age gap: How siblings help each other on trail
Photos courtesy of Vong Hamilton and Elizabeth Knapp. Feature photo by Kristin Hinnant.
Often in the Hike it Baby community, the question is asked what “adventurous” means, and the answer is different for all of us. For some, it’s climbing a mountain with a frame carrier fully loaded or doing a huge backpacking overnighter with a new little. For others, it’s ditching the stroller for the first time and trying a dirt trail, or just letting the kids spend leisure time climbing rocks and jumping in puddles. There are so many levels of “adventure” and we wanted to share stories of families who have redefined adventure on their terms. We hope it inspires you to get out and have adventures YOUR way too.