The health benefits of hiking: Prevention of osteoporosis

by Gideon Lasco, MD will embark on a new series that highlights the health benefits of mountaineering, which is intended as additions to the “Climb Health” section in the website.
Sometimes, when I show my picture along the trail, carrying a backpack, I hear the warning: “Ambigat-bigat ng bag na dalo niyo…baka makuba kayo!” There is a concern that carrying a heavy bag may take a toll on the back musculature as well as the spine. The logic behind this misconception is, too much stress may damage your bones.
It is therefore a reassuring fact that hiking is actually beneficial to the body. Particularly, it has been identified as one of the sports that can help prevent osteoporosis. Why is this? Due to added burden brought about by the heavy bag, the bones are made to adapt to heavier loads, and thus, stronger bones are formed. If bone density is lessened during old age, it will only pull down bone density to normal levels.
This is also the logic behind a study that found that people who are obese during their teenage years would have a lower risk for osteoporosis: the bones were stimulated early on to be stronger. In the words of the National osteoporosis Foundation, “Bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger”. Bone density is increased, which is essentially the opposite of osteoporosis which can simply be defined as a decrease in bone density. The US Surgeon-General reaffirmed these findings in 2004.
Moreover, our back has many muscle groups that are developed when we carry a backpack. When we bend to cross an obstacle such as a fallent tree in Mt. Napulauan, some muscle groups are activated. In normal life, these muscles are hardly used so they do not develop. But with regular hiking, you can expect a firmer back. Just make sure that the distribution of weight in your pack is equal. Also, do not forget to make use of the pelvic strap on your backpack to ensure a more even weight distribution on your body.
Osteoporosis is one of the feared diseases that are associated with growing old, but the fact that hiking can actually help prevent it should serve as an encouragement for mountaineers to keep walking along those trails.
National Osteoporosis Foundation, “Prevention”
The 2004 US Surgeon General’s Report on Bone Health

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