How the seniors’ trek is breaking mental barriers

How the seniors’ trek is breaking mental barriers

Category Expert Opinion

By Latika Payak

Today I want to share a heart-warming insight with you. 

Seniors have started embracing multi-day treks, and it’s changing the way they look at life. 

This is a beautiful example of active ageing, which remarkably affects physical and mental health.

What's "active ageing," you ask? As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is a process of actively engaging in opportunities that enhance your quality of life as you age. Active ageing brings down the mortality rate by 51%! 

Simply put, active ageing works as an antidote in times when the majority of older adults are leading a sedentary life in our country. Many seniors are opening up to it.

The impact is evident because all our groups for seniors are completely booked until June. And the future groups from July until November are filling fast!

We’re elated! This was a long-standing dream.  

“For me, it is very personal," Arjun Majumdar, Founder-CEO of Indiahikes says, "My parents are in their 80s and are no longer able to trek. Yet, I know how much it would mean to them if they could. They are the ones who introduced me to trekking.

“But there's more to it. Over the years of running Indiahikes, I have seen how treks have been transformational in a senior’s life. It gives them a big boost of confidence and a renewed zest for life. Just by doing a trek, they become fitter, make new friends, and connect with their inner selves. The treks add more years to their lives than anything else could. We cannot ignore such a large impact. So, it was on my mind for quite some time to start a seniors' trek.”

Yet, we did not launch a trek for seniors until earlier this year. 

Designing a trek for seniors takes work.  

Age affects muscle mass and strength. 3-8% muscle mass decreases every decade after age 30. 

It’s important to be mindful of this fact while designing a seniors’ trek. The trek's design, pace, and even the terrain must be decided while keeping in mind that a senior's muscle mass is not the same as someone in their 20s.

This is important because most treks climb swiftly, need more rest points, or the camps are too far off. It makes it challenging to design a trek for seniors.

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Treks that climb swiftly, have fewer rest points, far-off campsites are not suitable for seniors. Photo by Aarnav Subbaramu

Our busy schedule was also a hindrance. Unfortunately, with so many treks running at Indiahikes, creating a radically different design for a seniors' trek felt like a long haul. 

But there was a pressing need for such a trek. We knew because we regularly received requests from seniors for such a special trek. 

Finally, in late 2022, we decided to do something about it.

Launching the first trek for seniors in Chhattisgarh

Choosing the first trek was tricky. We wanted the seniors to enjoy every aspect of the trek without straining themselves. 

After careful consideration, we zeroed in on one of our favourite treks — the Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek

We love this trek! It takes you straight to the heart of the Guru Ghasidas National Park. The trek has a lovely blend of deep forests, ancient caves, picturesque campsites, and a calming river walk. Even though it's easier on the legs compared to a Himalayan trek, we had to redesign the route.

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A blissful walk on the shallow Gopath river on the Chhattisgarh Jungle trek. Photo by Nitesh Kumar.

So our team found an alternative route through the forest that was better suited to the seniors. 

But we were launching a special trek in a unique setting. It was a bold step. We were sceptical about how the seniors would take to it. Would they sign up?

The response was overwhelming!

Our worries were put to rest the moment we sent out the announcement.

"This is a trek I was anyway planning to do, and when I see that it's particularly designed for seniors like me, I'm absolutely elated."

"What a great idea! Count me in as a senior in her 60s. :)"

"I am so glad that IH has decided to open trekking to seniors.” "I am excited to join."

Within days, the first trek to Chhattisgarh was completely filled.

Witnessing the impact of the first Seniors’ trek

Seniors from all over the country signed up for the Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek. Our founder and CEO, Arjun Majumdar, went on the trek to see how the seniors fared.

“Even though I hadn’t gone on an Indiahikes trek for many years, I wanted to be present for this one. Many questions kept popping up in my mind. 'What would be the impact of this trek?' 'How would the seniors receive it?' 'What else could we do?' Arjun says.

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Arjun Majumdar having a final reflection with the seniors at the Baikunthpur Railway Station. Photo by Nandana Kamasani.

The first seniors’ trek was a success! As expected, it managed to create a significant mindset shift. 

We observed two impactful outcomes:

1. The Seniors’ Trek broke mental barriers.

While it was a bold step for us to launch such a trek, it was also a big step for the seniors to sign up for such an event. 

Observing how their mindset shifted even before the trek started was interesting!

“On a pleasant Sunday before the trek, our Experience Coordinator, Debadrita, scheduled an activity for all of us. She said everyone must walk for one hour and aim to cover a distance of 5 kilometres in that one hour. 

“I was unsure about my fitness till then. But on that day, in that one hour, I clocked 7.5 km! That’s when I felt, 'Yes, perhaps I was ready,'" shares 63-year-old Ramachandra Sagare. He recently completed the Dayara Bugyal trek with the seniors in the Himalayas.

There is a science behind this jubilant positive attitude. Our brain responds beautifully to physical activity. Increased physical activity — like walking for an hour — maintains a healthy level of chemicals in our brain. It reduces stress and spikes the feel-good hormone oxytocin. 

As physical activity intensifies, it nudges seniors to confront age-old stereotypes. 

“With age, we start discrediting our ability to do things we mentally feel we can’t do. But you realise you can do so much more on a trek like this. It is very liberating! It breaks mental shackles,” shares 64-year-old Murli Sundrani, a part of Chhattisgarh's first seniors' group. 

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This feeling of liberation is a constant among seniors on the trek.

“As a senior, you feel you must limit outdoor and physical activities. But after a certain age, it is time to return to nature. I feel all seniors must trek! It helps improve physical and mental health. It builds comaraderie and a sense of adventure. It’s like being reborn!” says 57-year-old Asha Shenoy, who was also a part of the Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek for seniors. 

What Asha says rings true because our life expectancy has increased. Becoming a senior no longer means the end of life. So becoming a senior is just the beginning of a new phase. Staying active, and getting close to nature helps in rejuvenating energy levels at this stage.

Good thing is, older adults have time on their hands after retirement. That makes it easier to engage in active ageing.  

It also coaxes seniors out of the regular setting to try something new. Which leads me to the next outcome.

2. The Seniors Trek brought out their inner child

Most seniors in the group had never been on a multi-day trek. It was a first for many of them. And the joy of trying something so new was unparalleled.

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Seniors engaging in an activity called 'connect with your senses' on the sandy riverbed of the Chhattisgarh Jungle trek. Photo by Nandana Kamasani.

Their joy was reflected in how enthusiastic they were about the trek.  

“Right from the minute they stepped out of the vehicle they were frothing with energy; running about and clicking photos like teenagers, laughing like pre-schoolers, playing in the sand, running in the river. Perhaps the only time I realised they were seniors was when I checked their ID proof during their safety check-in. Undoubtedly, this was the youngest group of trekkers I have led,” shares Trek Leader Ramon Rajan, with a wide grin. He led the seniors' group in the jungles of Chhattisgarh. 

This joy and energy encouraged us to take the seniors’ trek to the next level. 

A seniors’ trek in the Himalayas!

Trekking in Chhattisgarh was beautiful, but it has its limitations. It has a tiny window for trekking — only in the winters. What about other seasons?

To address this, we wanted to move the seniors' to trek to the Himalayas. But the trek had to be designed from scratch. It had to be senior-friendly.  

 The Dayara Bugyal trek seemed promising. It lent itself well to being designed as a seniors trek. We tweaked the route of the Dayara Bugyal trek to factor in the challenges of a senior trek.

After much deliberation, we launched the first Himalayan trek for seniors on April 5th. The timing was perfect. The bitter winters had passed, and spring was at its peak. 

“But I was concerned about how seniors would take to a Himalayan trek, especially the terrain and the cold,” Arjun Majumdar says. 

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Seniors on the summit of Dayara Bugyal trek. Photo by Shwetha Krishna.

On April 9th, we received an update from Trek Leader Shwetha Krishna, who led the first group of seniors in the Himalayas. It said:

“Hello, everyone, I came back from leading the seniors' group at Dayara Bugyal, and it was quite an overwhelming experience!

I haven't felt like this in the past groups I have led since the start of my trek-leading journey!

This update sent ripples of joy through the Indiahikes group. The first group of seniors in the Himalayas was a success! 

And seniors enjoyed trekking in the Himalayas

We were not surprised :)

Spending time in nature reduces stress, strengthens the immune system, and lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases. These benefits intensify on a trek, especially in the Himalayas, where the air is brilliantly fresh and crisp. 

“I was sitting on a rock, by myself, with a postcard and with tears streaming down my eyes. It was the best moment. I realised there are so many lessons from the trek you can apply to your life, your work,” shared 57-year-old Poornima Rao after the trek. She holds the summit experience very close to her heart.

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Poornima Rao writing a postcard from the summit of the Dayara Bugyal trek. Photo by Pritish Bhanushali.

The setting and the rigours of trekking instantly affect mental and physical health. It starts lifting up the spirits.

“Before reaching the base camp, I feared my knee would give out. But this thought shifted when I reached the base camp. My trek mates and my surroundings gave me confidence. And during all four days of the trek, with my kneecaps on, I did not feel unsure about my knees even once. It's all about the mindset,” Ramachandra says. “When you get into the mindset of 'I am prepared', you can conquer anything." 

These mindset shifts left an indelible impression on the minds of the seniors. They came back feeling accomplished, wanting to go on a trek again! (The next Seniors’ trek is in Himachal Pradesh!)

We’re witnessing a change in the way our country treks

On the one hand, we’re seeing children as young as five trekking at our summer camp in the Himalayas. On the other hand, we are witnessing seniors, filled with wisdom, taking one steady step after another on remote Himalayan trails. 

As a country, we still have a long way to go. However, we are at the start of a new reality here. Those who have never considered trekking as a way to rethink their lives can start to think about it. Our seniors are showing us that path. 

It makes your heart smile, doesn’t it? Can you share your thoughts on this?

View Treks for Seniors

Latika Payak

Senior Content Writer

About the author

Latika is a Senior Content Writer and one of the rare team members who has seen Indiahikes from its initial days. She was among the first few to begin creating content at Indiahikes, documenting treks around Maharasthra, interviewing trekkers and writing their stories.

Latika started trekking after joining Indiahikes and has trekked to Roopkund, Hampta Pass, Kedarkantha, Dayara Bugyal, Tarsar Marsar, and Har Ki Dun.

With a strong background in print media and have worked with several publications. Latika is always hunting for great stories hidden in the folds of the mountains. Horror stories from ancient routes and villages of the Himalayas are her favourite.

She is presently working on bringing out news from the remote trekking regions of our country.