YOU ARE YOUR OWN FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: Movement, Motivation and Mindset for Active Seniors

Energy Bite 43 – The Power of Walking

For seniors, walking is one of the best exercises we can do, as long as we do strength and mobility exercises as well. There are lots of favorable aspects of walking. My wife, Edie, and I have walked for years on the beautiful trails here in Reston, Virginia. We see dear, owls, foxes and other wildlife. We walk in the woods so it is not as brutally hot here in the Washington, DC summers as it would be if we were in the open, There is plenty to see, the trails are beautifully laid out, and are well kept up by the community association. Many cities and towns now have walking and biking trails that people can easily get to and enjoy.

But even without beautiful pathways, there are plenty of areas to walk. When you walk, most of your body parts get exercise. You are moving. You are putting extra weight on your legs. You are making your lungs work more efficiently and your heart rate rises. Unless you limit your walking to a treadmill at the gym or in your home, you are outside long enough to get some good air (even if you walk on the side of the road, your body works as a filter), and some sunshine. A good pace for seniors is 3 to 4 miles per hour. There are some great FREE mobile phone Pedometer apps that will give you time, distance, rate of speed and a lot of other useful information about your walking, plus some will give you a map of the route you walked. There are upgrades to most of the pedometer apps, but I can’t think of anything a normal senior would want as an upgrade. I suppose if you are training for a Marathon you might want something more.

How long should you walk. If you walk at a three mile per hour pace, which is a good pace for seniors, you will walk two miles in forty minutes. That’s a good walk for a senior. My wife and I walked for forty five minutes most afternoons. Post surgery, I am up to 1.9 miles at 3.5 miles per hour for around 35 minutes a day (and some of that is up and down hills). And I started doing that at the end of five weeks following the surgery.

Don’t start at three miles per hour. Just like any other exercise, you need to build up to it. If you are a normal weight and in decent health you should be able to work up to speed pretty fast. If you are overweight, or have some health issues, start more slowly and progress slowly. Take your time and once again, listen to your body, it will tell you how you are doing. One caveat: if you are just starting out, don’t stray too far from your starting point. Work in circles rather than going out in a straight line. Going away from the starting point may seem easy, but remember it is a long way back to the barn on the return trip and it won’t be as easy as going out was.

Walking by itself is not complete exercise. You still need to do some real weight bearing or resistance exercises as part of an overall exercise program, but walking is a wonderful way to get a huge number of benefits of exercise. Remember the adage that the best exercises are the ones you do, so even if walking is all you do, you are at least moving your body the way nature intended.

Here are some thoughts on walking:

  • Walk, don’t run.  Seniors don’t have any business running, unless they are training for a 5/10K, etc., or are master’s athletes. Why not? Mostly because of the stress on knee and hip joints. If you are out of balance, favoring one leg or the other can result in pain.
  • Walking can be done by most anyone, including those on a walker.
  • Treadmills are boring. Outside is nice. Dress for the weather. Carry ID and water. Don’t overdo it in the heat (it’s Summer)

What are the major benefits of walking?

  • Improved circulation
  • Weight bearing exercise can strengthen bone structure
  • Joint lubrication
  • Cardio benefits if you walk fast enough.
  • Many overall physical and mental health benefits.

Don’t count on walking as a cure for obesity or being overweight. It will help, of course. The main way to lose weight starts at the dinner table. There are a lot of other claims for the benefits of walking. Some claim that walking will help eliminate disease, will cure the inflammation in joints, will ease Type Two Diabetes, and on and on. This may be true, I don’t know. What I do know is that walking will help keep your joints lubricated, increase your heart rate and your breathing rate, and overall, will make you feel better overall over time. That’s the real benefit.

Finally, walking is truly heart healthy. It’s the first thing they had me doing after my heart surgery and walking is recommended as the number one exercise for recovery. I’m walking 2 miles a day at a 3 plus miles per hour pace, and I’m just finished with week six of the recovery period and I walk 2 miles in 40 minutes on the pathway system in the woods here in Reston, VA. It seems to work for me. Since I really got into the more extended walking, I started feeling better almost exponentially the last several weeks.  It works.  Give walking a try.

Thanks for reading.

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