Just put one foot in front of the other, and before you know it, you could be walking your way to better health!
Walking may be one of the easiest and most effective forms of exercise out there for seniors. Whatever your level of mobility, it’s a great way to get active, at your own pace. A regular walk can help you meet all of the four core fitness areas that the National Institute on Aging recommends for seniors – endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility – while also encouraging you to get outside and connect with others.
The Health Benefits of Walking for Seniors
Just how positive and beneficial is walking for seniors? Regular, brisk walking has been shown to help older adults:
- Improve cardiovascular health
Studies have repeatedly shown that routine walking can help improve circulation, lower blood pressure, and help ward off signs of cardiovascular disease. In fact, prominent studies out of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Tennessee revealed that walking a few miles per day helped lower blood pressure, and reduce stroke risk for older women.
- Fight diseases
Walking is a natural way to give your immune system a major boost. One major study of 1000 adults found that those who walked just 20 minutes per day, five days a week, experienced 43 percent fewer sick days than those who did not. Similarly, walking has been shown to reduce your likelihood for developing chronic illness, including certain types of cancer.
- Strengthen bones, muscles, and joints
While it is fairly low impact, walking is still a whole body workout, offering benefits to your muscles, bones, and joints, all at once. Walking is a way to lubricate your joints, which need regular activity to stay functional. At the same time, the motions of walking help strengthen your supportive muscles and bones. Indeed, studies have shown that regular walking can help reduce the loss of bone mass during osteoporosis; reduce the risk of suffering hip fractures; and significantly reduce (or even prevent) arthritis pain.
- Promotes healthy weight
A Harvard research study of more than 12,000 individuals found that those who walked briskly for about an hour a day were significantly less likely to experience the effects of 32 common obesity-promoting genes. Similarly, recent research has suggested that regular walking can help curb your sweet tooth, leading to reduced cravings and intake of unhealthy, sugary sweets.
- Improve sleep habits
It may be easier to catch a few “z’s” at night if you take a walk in the early morning. At least, that’s what the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found in a study. Looking at women between the ages of 50 and 75, researchers discovered that those who walked each morning were a lot less likely to experience insomnia than those who didn’t go for walks.
- Slow cognitive decline and dementia
Walking may be a way for seniors to remain mentally sharp with age. When looking at women 65 or older, University of California San Francisco researchers found that women who walked more experienced less age-related mental decline overall. The more test subjects walked, the lower their incidence of mental decline became. Similarly, a University of Virginia study focusing on men aged 71 to 93 found that those who walked a quarter of a mile or more per day experienced half the incidence of Alzheimer’s or dementia, compared to those who didn’t walk.
- Help you live longer
Could walking be a key to a longer life? Research from the University of Michigan Medical School found that those who regularly exercised during their 50s and 60s, including walking, were 35 percent less likely to die over an eight-year span. Another test out of London found that walking just 25 minutes a day may add up to seven years to a person’s lifespan.
- Give your mood a boost
Going for a walk could be a powerful way to improve your mental health and well-being. One study from California State University Long Beach found that there was a direct connection between mood and walking. In short, the more steps a person took per day, the more positive their attitude and outlook. One major reason behind the connection could be that walking helps naturally release endorphins and promote circular breathing, leading to positive emotional benefits.
- Foster social connections
When you go out and walk around, you’re much more likely to connect with others, whether that means joining a local walking club, or simply chatting with neighbors as you go down the block. In any case, research has repeatedly demonstrated the enormous benefits of staying social for seniors’ mental and physical well-being.
Getting Started With Walking
Want to help add walking to your senior loved one’s daily routine? Here are a few important things to keep in mind as you help them get going:
- Start with small steps
Walking can offer great benefits to seniors looking to remain healthy, but it’s important not to go too hard, too fast. Remember, every little bit helps. A walk down the block can help, so don’t worry about briskly going three miles, at least not at first. Help your senior to work their way up, and remember to always keep it healthy.
- Don’t push too hard
Just as you don’t want to overestimate how far your loved one can walk, don’t feel like you need to push them to go extremely fast. Healthline recommends using the “talk test.” As they put it, you know you’re walking at a good pace if it feels like you’re exercising, but you’re not so out of breath that you can’t carry on a conversation with someone.
- Watch for the weather
As we get older, we may be more affected by particularly warm or cold days. For seniors, it may be important to find alternative options to get a walk in, even on days with bad weather. A few options may be looking for an indoor mall, going to a local pool for a water walk, or investing in a treadmill.
- Look for creative ways to get motivated
Research has found that moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, is easier to stick with over time than more high-intensity activities. However, if your senior loved one needs a push to get started, try to find creative ways to get them motivated. You could walk to a nearby park, go on an “art walk” in your community, bring along pets or grandkids, or find other ways to inspire your senior family to get up and moving.
- Take safety precautions
Walking can provide enormous benefits to older adults, but you can’t forget to help watch out for their health and safety – and your own peace of mind. Comfortable, safe walking shoes can help reduce the risk of suffering an injury or falling. Similarly, always make sure your senior dresses appropriately for the weather, wears sun protection, and always stays hydrated.
To learn more about how Henry Ford Village encourages wellness of the mind, body and spirit and all of its forms give us a call or schedule a virtual visit.
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