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Not Your Father's Cane

Boomers increasingly opt for trekking poles and walking sticks

Jayah Faye Paley started out 15 years ago teaching a smattering of 70-year-old women and others how to use trekking poles to navigate the hills surrounding San Francisco. Now, the 53-year-old certified trainer from Pacifica, Calif., teaches multiple classes all over the country, including at Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park, and at adventure stores, local recreation stores and senior activity centers.

See also: Boomers turning 65.

Her roster of students has expanded to people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s. They want balance, stability and endurance to drive their exercise routine to greater heights — even with inflammatory joints that limit weight-bearing pressure on hips, knees and feet.

"Trekking with poles is walking with serious attitude," says Paley, who has sold more than 12,000 copies of her trio of DVDs on using poles for hiking, Nordic walking or basic mobility.

As boomers age and remain active, interest is soaring in trekking poles as well as walking canes and sticks. Sales of the aluminum or carbon variety, sold singular or in pairs at sporting good stores and websites, increased 21.5 percent to $29.9 million for fiscal 2010, after a 13 percent spike from 2009 to 2010, according to Jim Hartford, chief marketing analyst for SportsOneSource Group, a retail research firm in Charlotte, N.C. Online retailers are stepping up their response to consumer demand with even more variety of models, he adds.

Case in point is SierraTradingPost.com, where hard-goods buyer Chris Rogers reports that orders for trekking poles are up 30 percent from 2009 to 2010. Consumers can find a wide degree of adjustability, enhanced shock absorbers and even a device on the handle that positions a camera to capture photos of the wilderness.

Man walking with poles for senior mobility

Trekking poles can be used on forest trails and city sidewalks. — Aurora Open/Getty Images

Support for active lifestyles

The newest technology include quick, external locks on two sections of the poles that are easy for people with arthritis to operate and easier to adjust for uphill and downhill trails.

Poles enable walkers to go farther along forest trails by spreading their weight onto two lightweight devices, which helps alleviate pressure on fragile hips and knee joints. Senior citizen centers and YMCAs offer classes across the country to teach proper technique.

Heinz Johnson, 82, a hike leader in San Antonio, says he and his wife use aluminum walking sticks on trails. "Lot of value to the poles," says Johnson, who likes the stability that the devices lend for walking over rocks and through small streams on hiking trails.

Next: Walking poles aren't just for hikers.  >>

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