The best exercise program is one that is safe, enjoyable, and one to which the person will commit. Walking is simple, requires minimal equipment, can be done indoors or outside, and offers great health benefits.
The Importance of Physical Activity in Later Years
According to the American Heart Association’s Currents article entitled “Physical Activity and Public Health in Older Adults,” by Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, FACSM et al, “physical activity should be one of the highest priorities for preventing and treating disease and disablement in older adults.”
A walking routine offers seniors many health benefits, such as:
- Weight control
- Lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL)
- Increased good cholesterol levels (HDL)
- Lower blood pressure
- Control blood sugar & diabetes
- Providing stress relief
Make Walking Safe
Seniors should check with their doctor before beginning a walking program. For instance, someone who has recently had heart surgery may benefit from a walking program associated with a cardiac rehabilitation program where trained professionals can provide assessment, education, and guidance. All seniors in a walking program should:
- Follow any physician directives
- Listen to their bodies
- Warm up
- Cool down
- Ensure that they are adequately hydrated by drinking water
Walking shoes should have non-slip soles and should fit comfortably. Seniors should inspect the inside of the shoes to ensure that no gravels, mulch, or other items are inside the shoe before placing them on the feet. Shoes that enclose the toes and heel provide more protection. Clothing should be comfortable and appropriate for the weather to prevent cold weather injuries or heat-related problems.
Seniors may want to help start a SafeSeniors program in their local area if one is not already in place. These programs look at practical ways to make walking safer and more accessible to seniors. According to the article entitled “Governor Patterson and Commissioner Glenn Announce SafeSeniors – New Program to Increase Pedestrian Safety for Senior Citizens” a SafeSeniors program provides several strategies such as:
- Identification of areas most likely to have more seniors
- Feedback from seniors regarding walking barriers in the environment
- Painting pavement markers that are easier to see
- Extending crossing times at intersections
- Improving street lighting
- Offering educational programs for pedestrians
Adaptive Devices Can Help Seniors with Special Needs
A physician may recommend adaptive devices such as a cane, brace, or walker for added stability to prevent falls. Ensure the equipment is in good repair and is the correct height. A physical therapist or other provider should evaluate the senior’s use of the adaptive device to verify technique.
Seniors who have a hard time tying shoes may like shoes with Velcro closures or elasticized laces that can be left tied. People who have a difficult time putting on socks/shoes may use a sock aid. The Sock Genie web site has an excellent instructional video showing how to use a sock aid and also how it can be used to pick up a sock if it is dropped. Therapy animals provide numerous types of assistance, such as help with dressing, moving, or opening doors.
Where Seniors Walk
Walking routes can be as varied as the people who choose them. Many seniors prefer the sights and sounds of nature as they walk outside. Towns may offer beautiful landscaping or unusual walking opportunities such as a walking maze or labarynth. Others may enjoy the controlled temperature of places such as a local mall or indoor track. Treadmills can vary the slope and speed at the touch of a button, and water walking can provide added resistance while giving a welcome relief from the heat. Some gyms and other indoor areas may offer a free or reduced rate to seniors who only wish to walk.
Tips to Help Seniors Commit to a Walking Program
Tips to help seniors stay on track include:
- Find an accountability partner – talking while walking can be enjoyable and can help people to gauge their intensity level. People who are exercising in their target heart rate zone usually can talk in short phrases while exercising. This also gives an added safety bonus if one person needs assistance. The American Heart Association offers an online social network for walkers called Start! Walking for a Healthier Lifestyle.
- Try a pedometer – some are as inexpensive as $1.00 and can help walkers to put their workout into numerical form by recording the number of steps taken. Online pedometers can help seniors map routes.
- Keep an exercise journal or record – Write walking workouts on a calendar, make a spreadsheet, or use an online journal to help track progress.
- Some health insurance companies, senior centers, health clubs, etc. offer incentives for exercising. Seniors may offer themselves a reward for milestones as well.
- Add music – Favorite tunes may add more enjoyment to the walk. Wearing headphones may be a safety hazard for some seniors, so check with a physician before using them while walking. Some gyms offer music that appeals to many seniors during certain hours.
- Vary the routine – If the walking routine is becoming rather routine, look for ways to freshen it up or cross train with other activities such as group exercise classes, water classes, or yoga.
Seniors Walk Their Way to Better Health
Walking is one of the simplest types of aerobic activity that can help seniors to enjoy better health. Safe gear, adaptive devices, and careful selection of routes can lead to a more consistent routine while decreasing the likelihood of an injury. Starting and continuing with a walking routine takes commitment, but numerous resources are available for those who wish to make walking a priority.