Hiking and stroke recovery, how getting outdoors and taking hiking more seriously have helped and continue to help in stroke recovery.
Hiking and stroke recovery are something that have been in my life now since May 2022. I never really was that much of a walker, taking the dog out, albeit sometimes for long walks was pretty much the extent of my outdoor legwork but since coming home that has all changed.
Walking now plays a big part in daily life and I’m not forcing myself out there to go and get a few km under my belt because ‘it’s a good thing’ or that I’ve been advised to do it – it’s because it makes a huge difference in the way I feel when I walk afterwards and the next day.
When I was in hospital I had the left leg of Charlie Chaplin, my foot really did stick out to the left and my leg wanted to go the long way around any step I took by swinging out as far as it could. Concentrating on every step was the key and also mentally draining. This continued once I returned home but quickly improved [thankfully] with walking as a daily exercise which also improved strength and balance.
Walking becomes hiking
When ‘walks’ became longer Gayle and I decided to step things up a bit and start planning longer mornings out in the countryside, while our hikes were still short, terrain was more challenging as I realised that the more strenuous the hike the better I felt the following day.
As an ex smoker [I quit four months before the stroke] challenging hikes were now enjoyable without having to contend with the tight chest, burning lungs and coughing – I’d found a new outdoor activity that I could incorporate into overlanding too.
I know that I am tremendously lucky to be able to hike in the first place and I highly recommend it to anyone looking at physical activity as part of their stoke recovery, here’s why:
Hiking builds up strength and helps improve your fluidity when walking, it improves the gait and with plenty of it increases fitness levels too. More challenging hiking, at least for me really does make a huge difference, they are a significant workout but the real benefit can be felt the following day.
while our hikes were still short, terrain was more challenging as I realised that the more strenuous the hike the better I felt the following day.
Three or four days without a decent hike and the left leg feels weak, I feel like I’m developing a limp and balance feels compromised too during certain movements [getting out of a chair for example]. There is no doubt that a hard workout has big benefits, it makes the left leg almost feel as normal as the right one, for a time at least.
The hills around our village, much like the rest of Andalucia are rocky and challenging terrain. The added weight of a backpack also throws me off balance from time to time, hiking up a hillside and it’s almost as if something is trying to pull me back as my center of gravity has shifted – especially when the flask is still full!
Balance is a tricky one, there is no doubt that the 9 pills a day I have to take still make me dizzy and the two kind of go hand in hand expecially as you get higher up the hill. There are many ocassions when I ‘nearly ‘ lose balance so it pays to be extra careful, this can happen just walking along a path through the woods too.
The balance issue, for me at least comes from breaking my usual walking steps, to avoid a rock or skirt around a low hanging branch for example. Balance can be challenging to get back but the point is that this is also a workout and getting the body out of it’s comfort zone and into situations it has no choice but to negotiate, navigate and adapt to. The old grey matter is also put to the test.
Distance doesn’t matter
Distance does not matter, for me, the main aim is give the leg a real workout and to be consciously favouring it when it comes to larger/higher steps and strides. One hike we do is around 7km on a level dirt track in the campo but I feel far more benefit from a 2km hike around the hills. The latter is simply harder work, more challenging and you have to think more about where you are putting your feet and keeping your balance etc.
That’s not to say that less challenging longer hikes are no good, they are and there will be more up and coming for my target of 20km soon.
Make it better with good gear
So hiking is something that I really enjoy at this stage of the recovery and I can’t see that changing any time soon as I get too much benefit from it. If you are thinking about walking longer routes or taking up hiking as part of your stroke recovery then getting good gear is a wise move.
Hiking gear does not have to cost a fortune and you may have some of what you need already such as decent boots, a waterproof and a backpack. Good functional gear will make your hike safer and more enjoyable.
Think of it not as an investment in products you need but as an investment in yourself to help aid your recovery.