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Beacon Senior News

The hidden benefits of hiking poles

Apr 26, 2021 01:59PM ● By Melanie Wiseman
Orange and gray hiking backpack with two hiking poles

No one knows better than Boomers that change is not always a choice as we age, but how we deal with it is. 

My husband and I recently traded in our mountain bikes for cross trainer trail bikes. We could have mourned the loss, but instead we embraced a new option and are exploring rails-to-trails adventures across the U.S.

Fifteen years ago, my knees started saying “You aren’t 30 anymore.” Instead of quitting or limiting my hiking, I did one of the smartest things I’ve ever done and bought hiking poles. I was skeptical, but now I'm an advocate. Hiking poles have allowed me to continue hiking challenging trails without any knee pain. Plus, hiking poles have many other benefits.

Probably the most significant reason for hiking with poles is to reduce stress on your knees, legs, ankles and feet, and taking some strain off the back as well. This is especially true when going downhill. The Journal of Sports Medicine found that trekking poles can reduce forces on the knees by as much as 25 percent. 

Adding a little bit of weight distribution into each step means your muscles and joints take longer to fatigue. The less fatigued you are, the more ground you can cover before needing to rest. 

Hiking poles also promote better posture. As we grow tired, we’re prone to leaning or hunching forward, putting extra strain on our necks and back, which can lead to muscle strain or injury.

With good posture also comes improved lung capacity and better oxygen flow. An upright posture opens up the lungs to allow improved circulation to muscles, helping them stay stronger longer. Hiking poles keep your hands elevated, reducing the occurrence of swollen hands. They also propel you forward, encouraging a rhythm of lengthened strides and a livelier pace. 

Having three or four points of contact to rely upon instead of just your two legs increases stability and balance when negotiating tricky terrain. Poles help reduce the risk of stumbling, falling and possible injuries. Additionally, backpacks can alter your usual center of gravity, so the extra help from a pair of poles will keep you much more balanced.

You’ll find them especially advantageous for pushing away encroaching vegetation or testing unstable terrain and creeks. When it’s time for a quick rest, they provide a handy aid to
lean on.

At first glance, they may seem pointless (pun intended). But I’m upping my game from one to two poles. Speaking from personal experience, I’m confident that having two poles on a downhill Telluride hike last August would’ve prevented a painful broken elbow.