National Hiking Day is Wednesday, November 17. So "Get Outside" and Experience Some JOBO* and the Closest Thing There is to the Proverbial "Fountain of Youth."
Author and fitness expert, Martin Pazzani, says hiking is the "fountain of youth" – physically and cognitively. In his book, "Secrets of Aging Well: Get Outside," the globetrotting mountaineer, fitness entrepreneur, and Chairman of Activate Brain & Body reveals how hiking is the key to a happier, healthier, longer life. Says, “It’s the kind of extra fitness you can’t get inside, in a gym.”
“I watched in disbelief as this lean runner, old enough to be my grandfather, made his way toward me bouncing uphill from rock to rock with the confidence and balance of an acrobat," said Pazzani. “When he told me he was 75, and that this has been his routine two or three times a week for years, it was both a revelation and an inspiration.”
It led to his lifelong study of the physiological and cognitive benefits of hiking and his assertion that hiking is the "fountain of youth." In his book, "Secrets of Aging Well: Get Outside,” the globetrotting executive and Chairman of Activate Brain & Body reveals how hiking is the key to a happier, healthier, and longer life. He says, “It’s the kind of extra fitness you can’t get inside, in a gym.”
He believes the physical act of hiking creates a potent and unique positive effect on the human body and, more importantly, on the brain. The combined benefits are the result of multiple factors, including:
1. Hiking builds brain fitness and foot-eye coordination. In addition to pumping more blood and oxygen to your brain, the elevated heart rate that hiking produces creates the hormone BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) in your bloodstream, which is like miracle-grow for your brain. When combined with the intense engagement hiking requires from your brain —every step on uneven terrain involves a complex interplay between your eyes, your brain, and your muscles to keep you upright, to keep you moving, and to prevent you from falling. "You’ve heard of hand-eye coordination that is so important in many sports? Well, hiking requires a significant amount of foot-eye coordination, which is far more intense for your brain than walking on flat ground or a treadmill where your brain can switch onto auto-pilot," says Pazzani.
2. Hiking helps with natural vision improvement. If you spend a significant amount of time indoors staring at a TV screen, computer, tablet, or mobile phone, you are not using the full capabilities of your eyes. In essence, your eye muscles are not getting a full workout staring at a flat, two-dimensional screen, and they can atrophy. When you go outside, you look in all directions (forward, sideways, and up) as you focus on your surroundings near and far. You also engage your depth perception abilities, and you see in three dimensions, instead of a flat-screen. This, in turn, enables the eye muscles to loosen up, remain flexible, and to use the full range of motion that they are designed for.
3. Hiking reduces stress, increases mindfulness. The act of going outside and walking in nature connects us to the world, ourselves, and those around us. The quiet of the trees, the sounds of birds, the scent of petrichor, and the physical act of walking or hiking focuses your mind on the world around you and fosters mental and physical rejuvenation. For people who have struggled unsuccessfully with meditation and mindfulness stress reduction techniques, hiking can be a way to more easily and enjoyably achieve the same benefits.
4. Hiking builds all-important leg strength. When astronauts return from an extended stay in space, they often find they have lost muscle and bone mass. This is because when weightless, the body is hardly stressed at all. As a result, it adapts to the lack of stress that gravity normally provides by essentially, shrinking. Here on earth, we can produce the opposite effect. The more weight-bearing exercise you do, the more your body adapts to it by growing stronger muscles and denser bones. Hiking is a phenomenal weight-bearing exercise, and it triggers numerous physiological benefits. Every step you take helps to build a stronger skeletal system. Stronger bones permit stronger muscles and are much more resistant to breaks. Stronger and larger leg muscles will act as a secondary pump for your circulatory system that boosts the efforts of your heart and makes more blood and oxygen available to the rest of your body, especially your brain.
5. Hiking gives you broad perspective. This is especially important after our prolonged period of social distancing and working at home. Being outside, on the trail, can change your outlook on the world, open your mind to new possibilities, and recharge your tired brain. You ruminate less on your problems, expand your thinking, and it becomes clear how small much of what you worry about really is in the grand scheme of things, and the stress melts away. You may even experience the awe that comes from the majesty of being a part of something much bigger that yourself.
This all adds up to Pazzani’s contention that hiking is as close as we are going to come to the proverbial fountain of youth. The body and brain fitness that hiking provides contains all the elements needed to build a body and a brain that are healthy, positive, fit, and resilient in the face of aging. This assertion is supported by current research in longevity, “Studies have shown again and again that the way to prolong life is to move your body. Exercise – especially hiking – is a great way to get those endorphins pumping (the hormone that adds to your happiness).”(1)
There is also a long list of anecdotal cases that are becoming more and more commonplace:
M.J. “Sunny” Eberhart, or “Nimblewill Nomad” as he is known on the trail, at age 83, just last week became the oldest person to hike the storied 2,200 mile-long Appalachian Trail. Once a rarity, it is now commonplace to find people in their 60’s and 70’s hiking long distances across high peaks.
Such is Ralph Jesseman, recently “retired” in New Hampshire, who says, “I chose life, and I’ll be damned if I’m giving up. I’m 66, and I’ve known many 50-year-olds that are old! People need to un-velcro themselves from their couch and from self-limiting their existence.” When they last checked in with Ralph, an avid high mountain hiker, he was averaging two White Mountain summits per week and guiding numerous friends and family in the process, at a pace normally maintained by people half his age.
So no matter what age you are, get out there this week. Unplug from your devices, experience the joy of being outside (JOBO), and celebrate the benefits of hiking in recognition of National Hiking Day.
About Martin Pazzani.
Martin Pazzani is a globe-trotting business executive, a fitness entrepreneur, and an avid hiker, trekker, and mountaineer. He has taken 100,000,000 uphill steps, across 7 continents, over 50 years. He stays active and youthful through hiking, trekking, climbing, biking, swimming, and working out at the gym. His brain fitness company, Activate Brain & Body, is focused on the health and longevity of active agers and they are on a mission to radically improve the trajectory of aging. Martin has given seminars, talks, and keynote speeches to thousands of Fortune 1000 executives, colleagues, and clients at corporate headquarters, retreats, at venues as varied as the Cannes Lions Ad Festival, The TED Conference in Monterrey, California, the Dubai Lynx Show, The Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, and New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and for companies as varied as American Express, American Distilling Institute, Amtrak, BlueCrossBlueShield, Buick, Foote, Cone & Belding, Functional Aging Institute, Kraft, SC Johnson, US Postal Service, Volkswagen, Westfield, and many more. His talks can teach, motivate, and inspire with a combination of gravitas, expertise, and joy. Book him for a webinar or to speak to your group at martin@GetOutside.online.
*JOBO: joy of being outside