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Embarking on Outdoor Adventures with Chronic Illness

Embarking on Outdoor Adventures with Chronic Illness

Walk MD Sunset Stroll Canal Towpath

If adventuring outdoors is part of your lifestyle, it’s a hard pill to swallow when chronic illness causes you to be unable to keep up with your former pace. A year ago, I was hiking as often as possible and section hiking the Appalachian Trail, with no idea that my life was about to change dramatically. Now I’m forced to do short, infrequent hikes close to home because of constant fatigue, headaches, numbness in my hands and feet, and other neurological issues that are all part of Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome.

Photo Credit: Charissa Hipp
The author after finishing a hiking challenge in 2021

The days of throwing some gear in the car and heading off on a spur-of-the-moment adventure may be behind you, but some planning can make a big difference in facilitating outdoor adventures and making them a part of your life again. 

Consider the travel time to your destination.

Many people with chronic illnesses have low energy due to fatigue. Conserve energy by exploring close to home—you might find a trail you’ve never traversed or a lake you’ve yet to canoe on. If your destination requires much time on the road, ask a friend to tag along and drive for you so you’ll be well-rested before your adventure.

Sleep is a major priority, so be sure to sleep where you think you’ll be the most well-rested and ready to begin your adventure!

Pack light and smart!

Another way to conserve energy is to consider what gear you’ll need to take and any setup involved. You may be able to find lighter gear alternatives or things that will make your life easier, like trekking poles. Other times it’s a matter of having the appropriate gear, especially when it comes to items like footwear with the best traction.

two men crossing the I-70 footbridge on the Appalachian Trail
Photo Credit: Eli Hail

Most importantly, consider things like distance and difficulty when planning the activity you’ll be doing. Try to incorporate breaks when you can. Have a backup plan if you fail to reach your destination, like an alternate route or someone to shuttle you to your endpoint. Always pack extra healthy snacks and water, as well as any necessary medications and supplements, in case it takes you longer to reach your endpoint than you anticipate.

Check the weather forecast.

As the date for your adventure approaches, be sure to consider weather conditions. While it’s always important to check the forecast if you’re planning to recreate outdoors, extreme weather conditions can be more challenging for someone with a chronic illness. You may need additional layers for cold days or more electrolytes for hot days or an alternative set of plans altogether.

Choose your travel buddies carefully.

Choosing the right adventure companions can be just as important as your gear selection. Share your health concerns and limitations with your friends, and ask if they’re willing to go at a slow pace.  Make sure they have your emergency contact’s information and know what to do if an emergency should arise.

woman kayaking
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Give your adventures a before and after “buffer.”

Getting off to a good start sets the tone for your adventure in the great outdoors. Prepare by getting a great night’s rest, eating a healthy breakfast, and timing your vitamins and medications. Allow yourself some rest and recovery time after your trip, too—you’ll be grateful you did.

Be kind to yourself!

Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Make sure your expectations are realistic and know your limitations. Don’t compare yourself to your adventure companions, and don’t compare yourself to your former self. As you spend more time outdoors again, you’ll begin to see that it’s the little things that matter—a beautiful wildflower along the trail’s edge, the way the leaves dance in the breeze, the soothing sound of a trickling mountain stream, or the majestic sight of a hawk soaring overhead. Perhaps in some of those quiet moments, you’ll experience the healing power of nature. 


Lead Photo: Charissa Hipp

About the Author

Charissa Hipp is the founder and CEO of The Nature Prescription, LLC. A longtime tourism marketer and nature therapy guide, she believes in the power of connecting people to places. Charissa resides in Williamsport, Maryland with her husband and three children.

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