For seniors, staying healthy and happy doesn’t require signing up for high-impact aerobics or rigorous weight training. You don’t need to be a workout warrior to enjoy positive health and wellness after 60 and beyond. In fact, many physicians, life coaches and wellness specialists recommend staying active by practicing low-impact exercises. And, walking may outpace them all when you consider the return on time investment.
Walking can accomplish many of the important health goals for seniors such as cardio exercise, weight loss, muscle tone and lowering key medical risks. Taking a daily stroll has additional benefits that include socializing, camaraderie and structure. The activity can be a foundational part of retirement life with benefits you may have never considered. It’s simple, easy and doesn’t require a gym membership or specialized instruction. Here are some of the ways that regular walks can be uplifting.
Proper Walking Techniques
Before getting started, it is important to consider the basics. Like any type of exercise, walking routines should include an awareness of some techniques to avoid things like muscle pulls, falls or overexertion. First, consider these aspects of your basic stride:
- Keep your head up, not looking at the ground
- Your head and shoulders shouldn’t be rigid and tight – relax them
- Allow your arms to swing freely; keep elbows slightly bent
- Maintain good posture
- Step lively from heel to toe
A good pair of cushioned walking shoes will absorb much of the impact on your feet and knees. Make sure you have comfortable, loose-fitting attire and plan a path with a smooth surface. Nature walks are great on well-worn paths. You don’t want to have to negotiate things like potholes, roots, long hanging tree limbs, or cracked, uneven walkways.
It is important to start out slowly and allow the body to warm up. You can pick up the pace to a comfortable level once you feel the blood flowing to the muscles. Toward the end, slow your pace again to cool down. Abrupt starts and finishes to any exercise are unnecessary shocks to the system. After you walk, take a few minutes to stretch. This will help deep tissue blood flow and lessen the likelihood of muscle cramps.
Weight Loss Benefits
As we grow older and wiser, our metabolism slows down. It gets increasingly more difficult to burn up calories. In fact, 74 percent of American men and 77 percent of women are over their ideal body weight. Making matters more difficult, the high-calorie foods that are readily available, such as sodas and snacks, compound our weight issues. However, daily walks can curb the trend and help you shed unwanted pounds.
A senior who weighs about 150 pounds and enjoys a walk at a leisurely pace of two miles per hour burns up about 85 calories per mile. The average person walks at about three miles per hour. So, we’re talking about taking your time. The interesting thing about walking is that you would have to more than double your speed to burn calories at a faster rate. Apparently, the adage of the tortoise and the hare applies to this race as well.
Walking Improves Health
From physicians to fitness trainers, walking is considered one of the best forms of exercise. That’s mainly because it is a low impact type of aerobic activity that has high benefits and puts little stress on the body. Running, in contrast, pounds knee and hip joints and can put unnecessary strain on the heart. But by the same token, the heart is a muscle and needs to be exercised. One rule for positive cardio exercise is that it should elevate your heart rate and breathing, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation. Walking fits that bill completely.
Regular exercise helps the heart become more efficient at supplying the body with needed oxygen and nutrients. It can help reduce bad cholesterol, strengthen good cholesterol productions and even help lower your blood pressure. These benefits add up to lowering your risk of having a heart attack.
Researchers have concluded that women who exercise regularly have a lower chance of suffering from breast cancer. In fact, those who walked seven or more hours per week reduced the risk by 14 percent. They believe that exercise, such as walking, helps to change the ratio of estrogen metabolites, reduces body fat and makes it more difficult for breast cancer to gain a foothold in your body.
Walking Helps Improve Muscle Tone
A good brisk walk tends to leave your thighs and calves feeling particularly firm. That’s because those are the primary muscles used. But the benefits of walking don’t just affect those muscle groups. While you are walking, the whole body is affected. The hamstrings are worked, arches of your feet, lower back and buttocks. If you focus on using good posture, even your midsection and upper body will enjoy better muscle tone. Everything works together to create motion and maintain balance. This overall muscle tone will also help to deliver nutrients deep into the tissues and organs. It will also help boost your metabolism, which helps the body burn fat. Keep in mind that muscle tone also assists the cardiovascular system, which can help reduce blood pressure. Walking can be the lynchpin that brings it all together.
Walking Can Ease Arthritis Pain
The pain and stiffness that accompanies arthritis can make you want to become a permanent couch potato. One might think that undertaking a walking program would lead to more discomfort. It may seem almost ironic, but movement can reduce arthritic pain and stiffness. In fact, exercise is considered vital to curbing the debilitating effects of arthritis. A steady walking program can help your flexibility, reduce joint pain and strengthen bones. You don’t have to become an Olympic champion to start enjoying these benefits. Just walk a few miles on a regular basis. On the other hand, resigning yourself to a life of inactivity could have the opposite effect. You’ll likely see an increase in joint stiffness and pain.
Walking Can Be A Terrific Social Activity
Mark Twain once said, “The true charm of pedestrians does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking.” The great American novelist had a knack for observation and reflection. Without a doubt, we have enjoyed the social aspects of “the walk” many times. Whether it’s a romantic walk in the park or a parent-child walk to impart life lessons, a good walk often comes with a good talk. It’s time away from distractions and interruptions that can build relationships. For seniors, revisiting walking can help reconnect with people and establish new friendships. To that end, many people are creating organized walks.
Walking Clubs: There are numerous types of walking clubs that you can connect with through community organizations or just a local Google search. They range from dog walkers, parents with strollers and everything in between. Many have social get-togethers either before or after and they are a great way to make new friends.
Check out the local groups and ask a few questions. Make sure the activity is within your skill level. The last thing you want to do is show up to a pro power-walking event when you’re interested in low-key social strolling. Find out if the members would have things in common and if the schedule meshes with yours. If you don’t find something appealing, starting a new club isn’t difficult. Here are a few steps –
- Choose a starting and ending place
- Set a day, time and how often the group would meet
- Map out a course and reasonable distance
- Create a social media presence, such as a Facebook group, with the pertinent information
- Invite people to the group
- Hang a few flyers at key locations
- Have a backup plan or rain date in mind in case of inclement weather or closures
Startup walking groups generally begin as small, intimate gatherings. Sometimes they get larger. But in terms of socializing and exercising, intimate is nice. Among the popular places walking clubs like to meet at are malls. Back in the day, we called this “window shopping.” Today, it’s known as “mall walking.” A stroll down rows of main street boutiques can also accomplish that same goal. Exercise, socializing and shopping – sounds fantastic!
Walking Improves Mental Health
There’s an old saying that “the body fuels the mind.” That is certainly true of walking. We don’t generally think about it in those terms, but our experience proves this to be true. We get a certain feeling from walking through the woods, along the beach or watching the sun set. Something special happens when we move through nature on our own two feet. Mental health professionals commonly link the benefits of physical activity and wellness. Here are a few ways that you can benefit from a routine of pleasant walks:
- Walking can cause your body to produce endorphins, which helps reduce stress and anxiety
- A walking regimen can help to improve routine sleep patterns
- Regular walking can help reduce the possibility of depression
- Enjoying the scenery of your area makes you feel grounded and at home
- The fitness benefits can help you with a more positive body image and self esteem
- The exercise benefits can help improve focus and concentration
- Seniors with vibrant social circles tend to live longer and be happier
Scientists who studied the differences between those walking along busy streets and those in nature concluded that nature walks affected areas of the brain associated with positive thinking. They conducted a study with a questionnaire and brain scan after each activity. The hectic sounds of traffic did not sooth the brain. However, those enjoying serene natural settings saw less blood flow to areas of the brain associated with negative thoughts and brooding. They also scored higher on the mental health quiz.
Walking Provides Structure, Routine and Discipline
One of the pitfalls of retirement is falling into a sedentary life. Much of your life has been filled with routines and those routines built in certain structures that moved you in different directions. It’s important to self-impose discipline during your golden years and truly enjoy them. Walking may not have the urgency of getting up at 5am to be to work by 9, but it can become part of an important daily routine. Frankly, you probably endured many stressful routines before retirement age. Walking can be a super-positive way to introduce a health and wellness routine. There’s little doubt that we are all creatures of habit. This is a great habit to integrate into your life.
Track Your Progress
Like any endeavor, many people like to measure their progress and walking can be done by the numbers. The Fitbit is a terrific device to measure your daily steps and walking routine distance. You can also set visual goals, such as walking an extra block or another leg of a walking trail. Or, you can simply measure walking time with a watch. As long as you set realistic goals for yourself, making positive strides can be inspirational. Happy trails and may the walk be with you!
Forest Hill is a retirement community in Monterey, California. Between the perfect California weather, the beautiful sights along the bay and many walking trails in the area, Forest Hill is a walker’s paradise. To find out more about Forest Hill, or to schedule a tour, please contact us.