As we age, we lose that proverbial first step somewhere in our 50’s and then the second step in our 60’s. And other problems come with old age and high mileage: bad hips, creaky knees, painful feet, an aching back. What is especially noticeable during the summer months at the pool is how many of us could lose a few pounds. What are some fitness basics we can all actually do and live with by changing a few habits? Although we will talk about stretching, cardio, and resistance training in future articles, let’s begin with walking.
Experts agree that establishing a regular walking routine is beneficial in many ways for seniors.
Dr. Howard LeWine, M.D. Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications, in his article “Walking, Other Exercise Helps Seniors Stay Mobile, Independent” says, “If you want to stay healthy and mobile well into old age, start walking today—even if you’ve already edged into ‘old age.’”
A 2014 study of 1600 men and women between ages 70 and 89 determined that seniors participating in a structured walking and stretching program are far less likely to experience disabling conditions than those who receive only education on physical activities. The researchers said the results would have been even more dramatic, but many of the seniors who were attending the education sessions began exercising on their own.
The Arthritis Foundation lists many benefits of a regular walking regimen.
- Improved circulation
- Increased stability
- Stronger muscles and bones
- Healthier joints
- Improved mood
- Better sleep
- Improved breathing
- Slowed mental decline
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s
American Seniors Communities reports — Experts have said that walking could be the best exercise for seniors; it’s an effective way to reduce the risk for chronic conditions and improve your overall health. Some of the benefits of walking for seniors include:
- Improves heart health. For seniors, walking offers numerous heart health benefits. Getting your heart rate up daily leads to a reduction in the risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and even coronary heart disease.
- Lowers blood sugar. After eating, taking a 15-minute walk has been shown to reduce the after-eating spike in blood sugar some seniors can experience. Your body is using blood sugar more effectively to strengthen muscles, and insulin works better, too.
- Reduces pain. Studies have shown that walking helps reduce some pain due to chronic conditions like arthritis. Some seniors experience lower back pain, and walking even just three times a week for around 20 minutes can help strengthen abdominal and back muscles to decrease chronic back pain.
- Low participation cost. After you’ve invested in a good, sturdy pair of shoes, you can walk basically anywhere–for free! When the weather permits, head to the park for a stroll on the path or simply walk around your neighborhood. If it’s too cold or rainy to go outside, head to a shopping mall instead.
- Promotes social engagement. Walking offers an easy way for seniors to meet up with others, whether you join a walking group with friends or simply engage with neighbors while out on your daily walk. You can meet new people and enjoy your environment each day.
- Boosts mental health. A daily walk can help you feel more positive about life. The endorphins released during physical activity create a sense of well-being, reduce anxiety, and boost your mood.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to good health is independence. Longevity gives us time to enjoy our friends and family; however, having a high quality of life in our later years and remaining independent for as long as possible is even better. A daily walking regimen of 30-35 minutes can mean years of added independence.