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Walk with Me

Seniors smiling outside

National Walking Day is April 5th, 2023, and is observed annually on the first Wednesday in April. It occurs during the time of year when the weather gets warmer, and outside activities become more enjoyable.

Most of us have heard 10,000 steps a day is the magic number to hit to maintain one's health. However famous the 10,000 steps per day plan is, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

The number of steps needed per day can vary based on age, weight, and overall health. Aiming for a certain number of steps per day can be a helpful motivator to increase physical activity and improve health. The benefits of walking daily are cumulative. You don't need to hit 10,000 steps a day to see benefits. Walking frequency is more important than occasionally hitting a step goal.

Starting a daily or weekly walking regimen builds a healthy habit that has lasting effects on your body as you age. Increase physical activity such as distance, time, or steps as you become comfortable with your performance.

Why is walking an excellent form of physical activity especially for seniors?

  • Improved cardiovascular health: Walking can help improve heart health by reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

  • Increased muscle strength and endurance: Walking can help strengthen the muscles in the legs, hips, and core, which can improve balance and reduce the risk of falls.

  • Weight management: Walking is a low-impact exercise that can help burn calories and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Reduced stress and improved mood: Walking can help reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall mood.

  • Improved bone health: Walking can help improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

For some people, walking gets more difficult as we age, due to mobility issues or other health concerns. Maintaining a healthy exercise routine can still be achieved for those looking for something less strenuous than walking.

Some examples of exercises that can be great substitutes for walking include:

  • Water exercises: Swimming or water aerobics can provide a gentle, low-impact workout on the joints and help improve cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and flexibility.

  • Chair exercises: Chair exercises can be done while sitting down and help improve muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.

  • Yoga: Yoga can help improve flexibility, balance, and muscle strength, and can be adapted for seniors with different mobility levels.

  • Cycling: Cycling can provide a low-impact workout that can help improve cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and endurance.

  • Tai chi: Tai chi is a gentle exercise that can help improve balance, flexibility, and overall well-being.

While walking or other low-impact forms of exercise are generally considered safe and beneficial for seniors, there are things to consider when starting a new workout routine.

First, talking with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine is important. They can help you find the right program for your physical abilities and health conditions.

Start off slow and increase your output as your endurance increases. Over-extending yourself early in your routine can lead to increased soreness or injury, which can discourage some people from exercising altogether.

A few things to watch out for while walking or exercising are listed below. Minimizing these risks will make exercising more enjoyable and safer.

  • Joint pain: Walking can be hard on the joints, especially for seniors with arthritis or other common problems. If walking causes pain, you may need to modify your routine or try other low-impact activities.

  • Risk of falls: Seniors with balance or mobility issues may be at increased risk of falls while walking. Taking precautions such as wearing proper footwear, using a walking aid, and avoiding uneven surfaces is important.

  • Overuse injuries: Seniors who walk frequently or for extended periods may risk overuse injuries such as shin splints or stress fractures. It is important to gradually increase your walking duration and intensity and take rest days as needed.

  • Exposure to the elements: Walking outdoors can expose seniors to extreme temperatures or inclement weather. Take appropriate precautions such as wearing sunscreen, proper clothing and staying hydrated.

  • Health concerns: Certain conditions like heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes may require special precautions while walking.

Overall, the benefits of walking and regular exercise outweigh the potential risks, especially when done correctly and within one's physical ability. Seniors concerned about the dangers of walking should ask their healthcare provider or physical therapist to develop a safe and effective exercise plan to meet their physical fitness level.

To learn more about the health benefits of walking, visit https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/walking

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