Staying active and walking is particularly important for seniors. Walking provides a number of physical and mental health benefits, and can reduce your risk of health complications or even death. Finding a way to stay active, however, can feel a little daunting, especially if you have health problems already. Fortunately, walking is one of the most accessible, lowest-impact exercises you can do.
Find out why walking is so important for seniors in particular, and read on for some basic tips for how seniors can start a walking routine.
Walking is easy and gentle for beginners
The National Institute on Aging recommends walking as an endurance activity for older people, mostly because it’s easy on the body and you can increase the number of steps you take at your own pace. The institute suggests that if you are taking only 5000 steps a day, you can gradually add 2 to 4 thousand steps to your routine over time. If you would prefer to measure how long you walk, you can start by taking 3 short 10-minute walks a day and work your way up to a solid 30-minute walk.
Walking is accessible to people with health problems
According to studies, walking makes it easier to move hip and knee joints so that you feel less pain. The motion actually lubricates the joints, so walking is good for people with arthritis or injuries to the knees or other joints. Walking is lower impact than activities like running or cycling, and you can get a quick walk in whenever you happen to have time. You can get a good cardio workout even walking at a relatively slow speed, and you’ll have a lower risk of injury compared to more intense activities.
Walking can reduce your risk of death
Even relatively small amounts of walking can have dramatic health effects. Recent studies followed women with an average age of 72 to the effect of increased walking on life expectancy. Women who walked just 4,400 steps per day had a 41% decreased risk of death compared to women who walked only 2,700 steps per day.
1,700 steps per day works out to less than a mile, and even at a relatively slow pace of 2.5 mph you can reach those 1,700 steps in 20-30 minutes.
Walking faster correlates to longer lifespans
Seniors who have a faster-than-average walking speed tend to live longer. A study of over 34,000 people with an average age of 73 found that faster walkers lived longer. Every 0.1 meters/second (0.2 mph) of increased average walking speed correlated with an increase in life expectancy, and people who walked at a speed of 1 meter/second (2.2 mph) had significantly increased lifespan when compared to those who walked 0.8 meters/second (1.8 mph).
The study did not test whether decreased walking speed caused health problems – it could be that people with more serious health conditions weren’t able to walk as fast. Still, keeping active and retaining the ability to walk at a brisk pace is important for health.
Walkers are more likely to stay independent
A 2008 study found that older people who regularly walked were 41% less likely to develop a disability that could require them to go to a hospital. The study found that walking daily generally boosted people’s health to a striking degree: the group that didn’t regularly go for a walk lost ground, while the walking group increased their physical functioning by 25% in a mere 4 months. It added years to their lives too.
Another study published in the AMA compared two groups of relatively inactive seniors – one group was assigned an exercise plan and the other wasn’t. After 2.5 years, the group doing daily walking and basic strength exercises was 28% less likely to be disabled. By increasing physical functioning and decreasing the risk of disability, you’ll be able to stay independent longer.
Walking improves cardiovascular fitness
Walking reduces the risks of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, which are all problems that tend to affect older people. One study found that people who walked for exercise reduced their risk for Primary Cardiac Arrest by about 30%. Even a little increase in steps taken improved people’s chances of avoiding cardiovascular harm. It can increase your aerobic capacity by 19% and it strengthens your heart.
How Much Should Seniors Exercise?
The WHO recommends that seniors aged 65 or older without major health problems should follow the same basic guidelines as younger people – 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75-minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week. Brisk walking is a moderate-intensity exercise, and that 150 minutes weekly works out to 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. You don’t have to walk 30-minutes at a time, although the WHO does recommend walking for at least 10 minutes at a time for maximum benefits. Ideally, you should also work in full-body strength training at least 2 days per week. This doesn’t mean you need to lift weights at a gym. Bodyweight exercises, or activities like yoga that combine flexibility and strength are good options.
As mentioned earlier, those with health problems may not be able to hit these goals. Even increasing from “no activity” to “some activity” can make a big difference, so get as many steps as you safely can. Your doctor can recommend a more specific goal for your specific physical conditions.
Tips to get the most out of your walks
Try indoor walking (malls are great)
Malls have been a popular place to walk for decades. You can walk out of the rain or hot sun in a climate-controlled environment free of obstacles. Many malls open early so that people can walk before the stores open, and most are kept clean by the mall staff.
There are plenty of other fun indoor walking locations that you can choose from, however. Many museums and art galleries are great spaces to walk and view some interesting art or historical artifacts. Most have free or reduced-price days which makes it easier on the wallet. You can even walk at a large supermarket or big box store in a pinch!
Join a walking club or go with a friend.
One of the hardest things about retiring is that you often lose contact with other people. You can combat loneliness and get in your exercise by joining a local walking club or asking a friend to join in your daily walks. You’ll enjoy the companionship, which can help you walk longer and farther than you would on your own. Walking together is also safer in case you happen to fall or suffer a health issue. If you don’t have anyone to walk with, dogs are great walking companions as well!
Choose your walking surface wisely
When walking outdoors, choose your walking path and walking surfaces carefully. Try to find flat, even walking surfaces free from obstacles like tree roots and uneven pavement. You will want to avoid places where there isn’t much sidewalk because rough, gravelly terrain can increase your chances of falling.
When starting a walking routine, it helps to walk routes that you’re familiar with. You’ll know which areas might be danger spots or hilly areas you may want to avoid.
Start Slowly And Set Easy Goals
The last thing you want to do when starting a walking routine is to go too far, too fast and strain a muscle. Preventing injuries and maintaining your routine are key to any fitness routine. Start slow – perhaps take even fewer steps than you think you can and see how your body feels. Then you can gradually build up your endurance over time
Start off with short walks at a slower walking pace. You can then start to walk a little faster and go a little longer each time, or take more frequent short walks. Walking is such a versatile activity that everyone will go about their routine differently. Be aware that you might not feel the soreness from a long walk until the next day. It’s better to stop before you feel pain or soreness. You can always walk more tomorrow, so long as you’re not sore or injured today.
Avoid Slippery Surfaces
Slipping and falling is dangerous for anyone, but it’s especially dangerous for seniors. Wet surfaces are the most slippery for obvious reasons, but just because it hasn’t rained doesn’t mean there’s no danger of a fall. For more tips on fall avoidance, check out this comprehensive guide.
Avoid walking on grass or other naturally slippery surfaces. Even sunny days can leave dew behind, and hidden rocks or obstructions can trip you if you’re not careful. If you do walk indoors, keep an eye out for spills (especially near a mall food court or in a supermarket).
Polished surfaces, like a mall floor, can actually be more slippery than something like concrete that has natural grooves that increase traction. A rubberized running track is a great, grippy surface that’s easy to walk on.
Don’t ignore your shoes
Wear snug-fitting, rubber-soled walking shoes for maximum comfort and grip. Wearing the wrong shoes (like heels or dress shoes) can lead to foot pain and an increased chance of slips and falls. Dedicated walking shoes are not just comfortable, but also have rubber soles that are designed to grip the pavement and minimize slips. Check your shoes periodically to ensure that the soles are not worn down. As the grooves and rubber on your soles wear out, your risk of slipping increases. Worn-out shoes are also just not fun to walk in, so it pays to invest in a new pair of shoes every so often.
If you’re having trouble tying your walking shoes, consider checking out our friends at Xpand Laces for convenient, no-tie laces that turn any pair of shoes into slip-ons! You can also check out our Xpand review here.
Getting older does not have to leave you sitting around. With the above tips, you can start reaping the benefits of walking today.
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer now for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.