Walking every day is a habit that nearly everyone can develop and maintain and is especially suitable for older adults (50+) and seniors (65+). Running is a high impact aerobic exercise that causes many injuries as people age. By contrast, walking is much lower in impact and is virtually injury free when performed on smooth surfaces. There are serious health risks involved in being physically inactive. By walking every day older adults can exercise aerobically, improve their fitness, reduce health risks, and likely improve any chronic conditions they may have.
The Benefits of Aerobic Exercise for Older Adults
According to the Mayo Clinic the top 10 benefits of aerobic exercise include:
- Living longer
- Reduced health risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and obesity
- Management of chronic health conditions like high blood pressure and control high blood sugar
- Strengthening the heart
- Keeping arteries clear
- Warding off viral illnesses by activating the immune system
- Being able to stay active and live independently longer
- Boosting one’s mood
- Increasing one’s stamina
- Controlling weight
For older adults, aerobic exercise can also stem cognitive decline, and weight bearing aerobic exercise like waking can lower the risk of osteoporosis.
Walking Aerobically Every Day is the Goal
Seniors need first to receive approval from their doctors before beginning any exercise program and this is critically important when they have one or more chronic medical conditions. Exercise prescriptions should be individualized. But the large majority of seniors are able to walk aerobically and they can benefit a great deal if they can eventually work up to walking aerobically each and every day.
Walking aerobically usually means walking at a brisk pace that raises the heart rate and involves sighing respiration. Gasping for breath is working too hard. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise should be the goal for most seniors. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines moderate-intensity aerobic exercise as “working hard at about a level-six intensity on a scale of 10. You should still be able to carry on a conversation during exercise.” Although it varies by individual and existing fitness, aerobic walking paces can range from two miles per hour to four miles per hour. Many fit people will walk even faster than that.
Research shows that for substantial health benefits seniors should perform at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. But for those who are able to tolerate more, aerobic walking at moderate intensity every day for 60 minutes would reap even more health benefits. Those who have been inactive would need to work up gradually to this level of seven hours of aerobic walking per week.
Walking Strategies for Health and Fitness
There are a number of things that older adults can do to begin and to sustain a daily aerobic walking program for their health and fitness. Strategies for success might include:
- Investing in a good pair of walking shoes to avoid foot and other potential problems
- Walking with others – friends, family, or co-workers – to help all involved to stick with it
- Starting gradually and progressing slowly to avoid soreness or trying to do too much too soon
- Walking outside only in daylight and only in safe areas
- Walking on a treadmill if available, but not holding on to get the maximum benefit (unless balance is an issue)
- Doing shorter aerobic walks of 10 to 20 minutes multiple times a day
- Walking in malls during bad or extreme weather
- Using a pedometer to track the number of daily steps taken (10,000 per day is a typical goal)
- Warming up by walking slowly for five minutes and cooling down by walking slowly for five minutes (important for safe and effective conditioning)
- Drinking water before, during and after walking, especially in warm weather
Motivation is a critical success factor so seniors need to focus on the benefits of enhanced health and fitness and the difference it can make to the quality of their lives. Walking every day should become an ingrained habit after three months. So whatever it takes to walk every day for the first three months should be in one’s plan.
Those who are motivated by weight loss goals can plan to walk every day to lose weight. Such a commitment is doubly significant because getting fit and losing weight (or preventing weight gain) should be the key goals of all older adults who want to have high quality lives.
Walking Every Day Improves the Health of Seniors
Walking every day is something nearly all seniors can do. Walking is cheap, easy, and effective in improving health and fitness when it is done aerobically. The research documenting the health benefits of aerobic exercise is overwhelming. Walking every day is not hard to sustain once it becomes a habit. The key is getting started and committing to daily walks for three months. Seniors should make the time to do this for a longer and better quality of life and to maintain their ability to live independently.