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Inside the Outdoors: Fitness matters in the outdoors, too

And for those of us who have a lot of miles on our boots ...

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Sometimes it takes a dramatic event to make us aware of something that should be obvious. In my case, it was a session “under the knife” – and the rehabilitation that followed – that provided a perspective that I perhaps should have had all along.

It is not just the team sport athlete, the marathon runner or the triathlete, who as they age should pay attention to maintaining their physical fitness. Our ability to continue enjoying to the fullest the outdoor sports we love – be it hunting, angling or other seasonal outdoor recreations – requires more than just getting off the couch or out of the recliner at “game time.”

One of the consequences of aging is the gradual wearing out of important body parts. Most common is the loss of cartilage in our joints, typically the knees and hips, or less often the shoulders. When this happens, the result is likely to be painful bone-on-bone contact that accompanies activities in which the joint must perform functional movements.

Fortunately, just as we might take our car, our pickup or SUV to a repair shop for new wheel bearings, suspension struts or universal joints, replacement parts for the human “drive train” are also a possibility. This was the course I recently followed, after several years of having to limp while on our daily walks, or when walking a logging road for grouse, finding bicycling difficult and being a regular in a pharmacy’s Ibuprofen and Tylenol aisle.

For me, the solution was a total knee replacement. It’s a procedure in which the knee ends of the main leg bones – femur and tibia – are essentially sawed off and replaced with mating titanium parts, which are cushioned where they meet by a thin, plastic-like layer that functions like human cartilage.


It was during the post-surgery rehabilitation process when I realized that its objectives are logically the means by which any of us can attempt to slow down the aging process and preserve our capacity to enjoy our favorite activities. The rehabilitation process primarily stresses flexibility, muscle strength and balance. Unless we are among the relatively few who continue very active, serious athletics beyond our youth, we gradually but inevitably begin a decline in some capacities. It only counts for so much to walk behind a lawn mower once every week, or handle routine home maintenance tasks.

You or I might once have walked unaided over the uneven bed of a trout stream, a stream bed studded with smooth, slippery rocks and littered with unseen sunken branches. Now we might make use of a wading staff – a third leg, so to speak – to better keep our balance, and take steps more slowly and tentatively to stay erect.

The shotgun that a hunter has carried for many years of plodding though cattail sloughs pursuing pheasants, sooner or later becomes a heavier burden, and by the end of a long day may not come to the shoulder as smoothly or rapidly as it once did. Legs that once easily lifted high to clear downed logs and brush in grouse cover may not respond as instantly, leading to tumbles that are embarrassing at best, injurious at worst. Casting heavy musky lures for an entire day – once taken entirely in stride – can leave an aging angler reaching into the medicine cabinet for analgesic cream or anti-inflammatory tablets.

Our metabolic processes change with time, too. One change is the reduced capacity of a body to convert protein to muscle tissue. So, not only do we risk losing muscle or muscle tone through a more sedentary lifestyle, but replacing lost muscle is a greater challenge, too.

All this might seem to portend doom for those of us who have a lot of miles on our boots, an inevitable decline and loss of our capacity to enjoy some favorite outdoor activities. But as I go through my post-surgery rehabilitation paces one by one, I see their value longer term. Strength, flexibility and balance are necessary ingredients in many outdoor activities, both of the hunting-angling variety, as well as hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and many others.

Thanks to the Internet, and an almost inexhaustible supply of online health and wellness resources, it’s easy to find exercise programs for strength, flexibility and balance, all of which are key to extending our capacity to enjoy our favorite outdoor pursuits.

All that remains then is the will and commitment to follow through.


Mike Rahn - Inside the Outdoors.jpg
Mike Rahn, columnist

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