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Protect Yourself and Your Heart While Hiking This Summer


Summer Activities And Heart HealthThe beautiful weather and scenic views from 5,000 feet above the ground call outdoorsmen, naturalists and general adventurers to leave the a/c behind and head for the hills. However, while taking a nice stroll through the woods might seem like a relaxing and serene way to spend a few hours, climbing up a mountainside can take an extreme toll on your body.

Two hikers in as many weeks have died of a heart attack while hiking in the Adirondack mountains, proving the dangers that face even physically fit people. Ironically, the best way to strengthen and protect your heart is by doing regular aerobic exercise like jogging, biking and, yes, even hiking. If you are planning a mountain climb before the cool fall temperatures set in, follow these hiking tips to stay safe and healthy on the trail.

Check heart rate frequently

The most accurate way to find your body’s target heart rate is by visiting a cardiologist for a stress test. However, you can get a good estimate by doing a little simple math. Subtract your age in years from 220 (ex. For a 45-year-old: 220 – 45 = 175). This number will be your maximum heart rate, or the approximate maximum capacity that it is safe for your heart to handle. During exercise, aim to keep your pulse at about 50-75% of your maximum heart rate. In the previous example, 50-75% of a maximum rate of 175 would be 88-99 beats per minute. Throughout your hike, stop to check your pulse whenever you feel your heart beating hard, and make sure you are staying within your target range. If your heart rate is exceeding your target range, take a break for a few minutes to catch your breath and then proceed at a slightly slower pace.

Make stops

Climbing a mountain is not the same as competing in a sprint race to the finish line. Even extremely fit people cannot withstand the prolonged strain on your body and your heart caused by the mountain’s incline. Take frequent stops in shady areas, especially as the terrain becomes steeper, to catch your breath and stretch sore muscles. Find a steady pace that you will be comfortable maintaining to prevent you from overworking your body early on and increasing the risk of injury later.

Take food and water

Becoming dehydrated is one of the most dangerous aspects of hiking, especially during hot summer months. Load up on fluids the day before a planned hike, and take enough water to drink at least 8 ounces every 30 minutes during your expedition. This means for a four hour hike you will need 64 ounces of water, or about two liters. Snacks will also be vitally important along the way to keep your body fueled. Salty snacks replace electrolytes lost when you sweat, helping your body maintain its natural balance. Pack trail mix made with salted nuts or energy bars high in protein and have a few bites whenever you drink water to keep energy up.

Hike with a partner

The most dangerous thing a hiker can do is take off into the woods by him or herself for a day-long adventure. Even if you tell people what your plans are and where you’ll be hiking, there is no one by your side should something go wrong. Having a hiking buddy, a GPS unit and a well charged cell or satellite phone will ensure that even if there is a medical emergency you will be able to contact authorities for assistance. If you don’t have an established hiking partner, ask around for local clubs or search Meetup.com for a hiking group in your area. Hiking with other outdoor enthusiasts is not only safer for everyone, but can also introduce you to trails in your town you never knew about.

Know your limits

Everyone has an innate sense of whether or not their body is doing what it is supposed to. There’s nothing wrong with taking on a new challenge, but when you start feeling that something isn’t right, it is vitally important to stop immediately and reassess your situation. If you are experiencing a rapid or weak pulse, dizziness, paleness, nausea, headache, cramps or chest tightness these can be symptoms of heat exhaustion, heatstroke or a cardiac event. Even slight symptoms can quickly turn into something more serious, so call your doctor right away if you suspect something is wrong.

To learn more about having a stress test or maintaining heart health during exercise, schedule a consultation with a cardiologist today.

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