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  1. #1

    Default physical health for a thru hike

    Hi i am new to the backpacking world when i came across the appalachian trail in a youtube video , homemade wanderlust to be exact and it lit this fire in me to try it. I've always had an interest in camping and bushcrafting and and am seriously considering this journey. To give a brief run down of my situation Id like to know your guys opinions. Prior to covid I ran a business for family and usually did my 10k steps before noon ( Id be running around the store non stop 16-18 hour a day) I was never a athletic person but I stayed in decent shape , absolutely hate cardio but lifted weights here and there. Once covid hit and shut down our business Ive been in a depression and rotting at home for a few years trying to figure out what to do. I had a heart attack about a year ago and had a quintuple bypass. My legs have atrophied to the point where i cant even run ,I started going for walks to try to get some conditioning in but id go maybe 4-5 blocks and the burn would turn me around mainly in my calves and hamstrings from what i noticed( not out of breath ). So one thing i was wondering, is it possible to hike the AT being out of shape and slowly working my way up to getting my hiking legs and completing the AT although i guess that aspect is more mental than anything. So would it be possible with me starting out a few miles a day and my body will adapt to pushing up to 20+ miles eventually?(yes im aware about HYOH but I want to know if it's physically possible as i can be determined as a mule) I Will confirm with my cardiologist prior to going and in the meantime doing my research and study to be prepared for the hike. I am 43 btw and does my prior conditioning have any effect? So is it possible to finish the AT being really out of shape but only with the determination to finish it? Ive been seeing stories of blind people and the elderly finishing a thru hike but i guess this situation is a bit different where im so out of shape I can't even run. I'm more than willing to push through the pain if need be but i dont want it to have permanent damage. I am also a smoker and was looking at the thru hike as my time to quit. Thank you for taking the time out to read this and i appreciate the feedback.

  2. #2

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    Wow 43 and already a bypass and still a smoker. Anything is possible but the odds are stacked against you. The first few weeks will decide if you are going to make it. It takes several weeks to really get "trail legs" There really is no option of being an out of shape hiker by the end of the AT, you may have starved yourself (some AT hikers do) but physically you are inherently forced into shape, obviously, some short term issue like stress fractures in the feet can you take you out early and for most its something out of their control.

  3. #3

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    Quit smoking NOW! Start walking longer and longer distances every day, until 5 miles is not a problem. Then start going on some short backpacking trips. After doing that, and talking to your doctor, you’ll be in a better position to decide if you want to hike the AT.

  4. #4

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    Agreed with all the above. Use the thru hike goal as a reason to make changes now - not a way to make them in the future. Do what you have to do to eliminate the smoking and start incrementally increasing your fitness. Now is the time.

  5. #5
    Registered User One Half's Avatar
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    you had a quintuple bypass at 43? despite walking a LOT while at work.
    I am guessing there is something here we don't know. How much do you weigh? or how much did you weigh when you had your heart attack?
    https://tinyurl.com/MyFDresults

    A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. ~Paul Dudley White

  6. #6
    Registered User JNI64's Avatar
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    Yes ANYTHING is possible if you're willing to put the work into it!

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by One Half View Post
    you had a quintuple bypass at 43? despite walking a LOT while at work.
    I am guessing there is something here we don't know. How much do you weigh? or how much did you weigh when you had your heart attack?
    It's not like I'm trying to hide anything i am 6' and 170 lbs roughly the same as before the heart attack. from what I was told it was my diabetes and smoking that were the biggest factors. Also, heart disease runs in my family all of my uncles and my father had open heart surgery as well. I was also on keto for about 2 years before it although I'm not sure how much of an effect that it had on it. It's not that I'm undecided on doing an AT thru hike I AM going to do it as long as my doctor gives me the green light. I appreciate the feedback and fully acknowledge I should quit smoking but I won't make any excuses, I'm well and thoroughly addicted to cigarettes. my main concern is if it's something I can physically do without permanent damage as long as I have the mental fortitude to push through it. I have been slowly trying to get back into shape and started walking with a backpack loaded with 20 pounds. I have been lifting weights again for the past few months but my cardio capacity is terrible. Another thing I was wondering is, I follow an omad diet where I eat only once a day in the evening and I fast every so often. would that be detrimental on a thru-hike? tbh, I don't listen to the nutritionist assigned to me by my doctor when she walked in and had kankles. Nothing against overweight people mind you but I can't listen to someone giving me health advice who was out of breath just standing there speaking to me. I was surprised to see when I woke up post-op, teenagers in the hospital wing I was in for open heart surgeries, and a few of them were actually in there just a few years prior after having stints put in.

  8. #8

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    You can. You should. Don’t wait.

  9. #9

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    Go slow at first, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Get it on the calendar and do it. Aim. Set. Ready!

  10. #10

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    With diabetes it would be very difficult to do a thru hike.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by loosejuice View Post
    ... I AM going to do it ... as long as my doctor gives me the green light. ....
    my personal opinion. the first part is the way to go.

    my doctors told me that after a skiing accident with a torn apart knee i will never do any sports again. looking back for 40 years now i have a nice list of accomplishments going for my decision not to believe a word the doctors said in this respect. 2 years later i did a winter hike from bear mtn to harpersferry, followed by a climb of denali another year and a half later. i carried a 80 pound backpack and pulled a 40 pound sled with my no-more-sports-knee. 15 years later i finished the AT, again mostly in fall and winter.

    i have not always been that fit over the years, but whenever my knee bothered me (and my back, and my hips and my neck and...) a good book came to my rescue.
    pete egoscue, painfree through motion. getting my body straight with those simple practices, with an investment of about 30 minutes a day it took only a few weeks to get me walking well again.

    smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body. why do you think every non smoker coughs his lungs out when trying? there is a good reason for this incredibly strong reaction of your body. quit hurting yourself now is about the best advice anyone can give you about smoke and nicotine. which is one of the strongest nerve-poisons available by the way.

    dont start your exercises with a load. start straightening your body out, so it can function correctly. then start working out with weight. its important to get all the muscles to do the work they are supposed to do. if something hurts something is wrong. if you train the wrong muscles you will increase the pain, or at best only shift it to someplace else. you need the right ones to do their job again and keep the "cheaters" from doing it.

    i would not worry too much about your diet. if it feels right keep it up. make sure its giving your body all the things it needs. if you do that once a day or 3x a day does not matter. why eat when you are not hungry? just because its noon and all the others eat? eat because a whistle is blown by somebody else? i am sure though you will change your eating habits on the trail. youŽll eat a lot more and youŽll be hungry a lot more if you dont feed yourself during the day. do what feels right. i dont eat a lot the first week, but after that i eat like a hog, portions that usually would last 2 days for me.

    now, dont get me wrong. i am not saying your doc doesnŽt know a bit. he certainly does know a bit. the cardiologist knows about your heart, and little about your hurting calves. so listen to him when he talks. but dont believe everything he says is the right thing for you. be careful and do what feels good, as long as it feels good. keep your eyes open and look around. every input is worth a look. after a while youŽll know what works for you and what does not.

    and dont forget that the way you were living in the past has gotten to exactly where you are now. find out for yourself if you need a change or want to go on like before.

    happy trails on your way back into a healthy body! take the first step and your other leg will follow.
    good luck!

    you will find the book easily used for only a few dollars. it is worth every cent.
    happy trails
    lucky luke

    ____________________
    resist much, obey little!

  12. #12
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    If in your shoes, I don't think I'd decide now whether to thru hike and wait until the AT to get into shape. Do it this way:
    1. Immediately begin regular conditioning. You live in the city, but you'll find ways.
    2. As regularly as possible, doe some real hikes and/or short backpacking trips. Gradually work in some real climbs on the AT in NJ/NY/CT.
    3. As the time for your trip approaches, you should know much more about your health and if you really want to undertake a thru hike. If so, consult with your doctor about the advisibility given your health at that point.

    I think you can do it, but you can't transition abruptly from a sedate lifestyle with serious health concerns to handling mountains beneath a pack. Getting ready is going to be a real grind, but backpacking is too. Good luck!

  13. #13

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    good words of encouragement! Instead of an immediate 180° turn, ease into it like others are saying.

    The fact that you’re even thinking about it is the best.

  14. #14

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    There are some excellent suggestions above on how to start on the road to Katahdin, however you have some medical concerns that fall well outside the advice campfire and are genuinely medical questions. Many have done what you are thinking of, some having to make several attempts at it before reaching the other end of the Trail. It's a worthy goal which demands a worthy effort.

    Get medical advice on how to go about this and listen to what your doctor/s tell you about your heart condition and general health. I can predict they will tell you to start slowly and work up, which you should follow up with outlining what you feel is a decent start up program of walking miles, etc. and sharing it with your medical people. Most importantly, find out how you can effectively deal with insulin needs on a long distance trail. Likely you will have to stop for medical provisions you will need an Rx for to renew at local pharmacies along the way.

    So, first things first. You should tackle the smoking addiction, which many here including me have done. I tried a number of things to quit but no success at the time. What ended up working well was a procrastination approach. I related the urge to smoke with exercise, when I felt the urge I would go out for a quick 1-mile walk (half mile would do) and return absent the urge. Next urge, same thing. At first I barely got my jacket off before the next urge arrived, so back out I would go. So to avoid constantly being outside walking, the next step was to use the procrastination approach telling myself when the urge struck if after the next 10-minutes I still want a smoke, I will have one. The trick here being the urge to smoke only lasts a few seconds, I'd look at the watch and pin-point the time and wait. By the time 10-minutes went by I was into something else and the urge was all but forgotten. Next urge, same thing. It's a minute by minute thing with breaking that habit. Staying away from places that encourage smoking or endorses the habit should be considered. Using exercise as a response also will work well to highlight your strength and endurance limitations and improvements. I think if you walked a quick half mile when getting the urge, you will probably be startled at how many miles you walk during the process and how much easier those miles become with the effort.

    Start slowly is the common advice, which is sound. Walk as much as you can routinely do every day. It really does not matter how many miles, what matters more is the issue of bad weather and alternative things on your plate that dampen the exercise decision. Don't worry about the daily mileage of hikers in the prime of life at 20 something and their hiking rate of 20-miles per day, unless you want to be self discouraging. If you walk, regardless how fast or slow, you will get where you are headed. Time your routes against mileage to establish your current miles per hour rate of travel. I know several people who hike at a low pace of about 1.2 miles per hour, which means if they rise early, even with breaks, they can make 10-miles a day. Distance is not how fast one walks, but how long one walks.

    As far as initial thoughts go, I would avoid getting new trail gear like tent, sleep system, stove and fuel, clothing, etc. just yet. That can be figured out once you have passed the "this is too hard" phase of your progress, which may happen a few times before it dissipates. Exercise is the key to the entire process that will help smoking cessation, improve diet and its impact on your body, increase walking endurance , and possibly improve insulin needs. While the challenge may be calling you loudly to do the AT in 2024, your body may need more time to prepare for a journey of this type to harden your physical, mental, and emotional endurance.

    Only you and your doctors can assess when you are ready for long distance trekking like the AT. However, getting to that point starting now will be beneficial regardless if you end up doing the AT in a series of LASH (long-ass section hikes), flip flop hikes, or south bound thru hike that provides a few additional months to prepare.

    Please do keep us posted on your progress. Regardless of outcome there are people who will see your posts and take optimism from your experience. Good luck!

  15. #15
    Registered User JNI64's Avatar
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    Some very smart folks here for sure with great advice
    First and foremost please quit smoking it really is a disgusting habit that wreks your body,makes your clothes stink,fingers stink etc.... I smoked cigarettes for years when I was younger. As soon as you stop your lungs will start to repair themselves.
    As far as diet I always recommend the Mediterranean diet ,look into it. As far as exercise I would recommend doing your own body weight exercises like jumping pull-ups, push-ups, dips,body squats etc set a number of reps and go through them like rounds with no to little rest between exercises rest a minute and do another round. This routine will strengthen plus give you cardiovascular workout at the same time. And don't forget to stretch very important.
    Good luck and remember we got 1 life to live

  16. #16
    Registered User One Half's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by loosejuice View Post
    It's not like I'm trying to hide anything i am 6' and 170 lbs roughly the same as before the heart attack. from what I was told it was my diabetes and smoking that were the biggest factors. Also, heart disease runs in my family all of my uncles and my father had open heart surgery as well. I was also on keto for about 2 years before it although I'm not sure how much of an effect that it had on it. It's not that I'm undecided on doing an AT thru hike I AM going to do it as long as my doctor gives me the green light. I appreciate the feedback and fully acknowledge I should quit smoking but I won't make any excuses, I'm well and thoroughly addicted to cigarettes. my main concern is if it's something I can physically do without permanent damage as long as I have the mental fortitude to push through it. I have been slowly trying to get back into shape and started walking with a backpack loaded with 20 pounds. I have been lifting weights again for the past few months but my cardio capacity is terrible. Another thing I was wondering is, I follow an omad diet where I eat only once a day in the evening and I fast every so often. would that be detrimental on a thru-hike? tbh, I don't listen to the nutritionist assigned to me by my doctor when she walked in and had kankles. Nothing against overweight people mind you but I can't listen to someone giving me health advice who was out of breath just standing there speaking to me. I was surprised to see when I woke up post-op, teenagers in the hospital wing I was in for open heart surgeries, and a few of them were actually in there just a few years prior after having stints put in.
    I also follow mostly keto (currently carnivore but not by choice) and often do OMAD or just a 4 hour eating window.
    as for "cardio" what you really need is long slow distance with your heart rate in your AEROBIC zone. This means you can breathe with your mouth closed while walking. As for the aches and pains you are feeling getting back onto your feet after surgery and being sedentary I would suggest you do just what you can today keeping in mind you need to be able to repeat it tomorrow and the next day and the next... SLOWLY increase your weekly time/distance by 5%-10% MAX. Don't be afraid to start out just every other day as your body adjusts, especially if you are sore or "exhausted" from the day before. I started working as a personal trainer in the early 90s. It's hard to give "complete" advice on a forum but the slow increase in exercise is good info for everyone.
    https://tinyurl.com/MyFDresults

    A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. ~Paul Dudley White

  17. #17
    Registered User One Half's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gpburdelljr View Post
    With diabetes it would be very difficult to do a thru hike.
    depends on Type 1 or 2 but not impossible with either.
    https://tinyurl.com/MyFDresults

    A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. ~Paul Dudley White

  18. #18

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    First of all, thru hiking is overrated IMO. Most thru hikers loose the magic and end up marching with their head down, "just to finish", often grumbling and miserable.
    Secondly, it would be wise to take a stepwise approach and do small, then medium, then long hikes to see how you do. Thousands of people have done the trail one little step at a time, often with great enthusiasm and pleasure, because you're unlikely to get sick and tired of shorter hikes.
    Thirdly, if you are limited physically but still want to hike, do the most rewarding sections first, or don't even do the less rewarding sections at all. I've done favorite sections two or three times. Other sections I would never set foot on again, they did not float my boat.
    Finally, remember that nobody else really cares how much you hiked, or even how you hiked. Make your own standards and do the best you can with your limitations.

  19. #19
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    There is an old adage that says the only way to prepare for a long distance hike is to take a long distance hike. The point is that no matter how much you train, it won't prepare you for hiking over mountains with full pack for 10 hours a day. But once you start, the trail will get you in shape. That being said, those who are fit in advance will be better off on day 1 than the couch potato with no experience, but after a few weeks, that distinction will fade assuming the couch potato can work through their early challenges. If you look at surveys of long distance AT hikers you will find that the majority started off with little or no backpacking experience. On my first AT section hike in central VA I met a very nice thru-hiking couple who were both very overweight when they started in GS. By the time I met them in central VA, they had both lost over 100 lbs. Of course it took them until mid summer to get that far, so there was no way they were going to complete a thru hike, but this is just a good example of why finishing the trail may not be the best objective to focus on.

  20. #20

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    loosejuice, you are young, and I admire your spirit. I would like to suggest section hiking as an alternative to a thru hike, at least for now. From nyc you have easy access by bus or train to the AT in CT, NY, NJ, and PA. Start with day hikes (you can do this in nyc), and when you feel ready you can move on to short overnights, then longer sections.

    For the record, I section-hiked the AT, starting in 2005 at the age of 60 and finishing at Katahdin in 2018, with a couple of years spent recovering from a broken ankle. Section hiking fit my lifestyle much better (I had a job for the first several years, own pets, and am an avid gardner), and I enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed a thru.

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