The Walking Cure: Walking And Health For Seniors

Many senior people are realizing that getting older and retiring has heralded a sharp drop in their level of physical activity. It’s an understandable consequence of stopping work: as the physical demands of your life reduce, so you naturally reach a level of activity that matches the demands. You inevitably become less active. Also many seniors have physical challenges, such as arthritis and balance issues, which may prevent them from being as active as they would like.

Even a small amount of walking daily can improve your health. Doctors agree that if you walk every day, even for a short time, you will increase you longevity, overall health and vitality, and your quality of life will automatically improve. Obviously there are challenges and these can be overcome. What you must do, especially if you have any pre-existing conditions that may be aggravated by regular walking, is to consult your doctor before embarking on any routine. Your doctor can advise you of your suitability for regular walking exercise, and perhaps even provide you with a tailor-made plan for taking up this enjoyable way to get your body in motion.

Every Body Needs Exercise

The beneficial effects of daily exercise are well documented, and everyone says it’s good for you. Every human being needs to move their body around, and the more you work it into your daily life, the better it gets. As you mature you begin to slow down and physical activity becomes less effortless and smooth, so it’s natural to assume that physical activity is becoming a closed book. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s Just Routine

Everyone benefits from regular exercise, and often the only obstacle getting in the way is our expectations and attitude. It’s cheap and easy to get into; all you need are comfortable clothes and shoes, and the desire to make it a regular routine. All it takes is 10 minutes a day, around 5 days a week. It needn’t be every day, but a minimum of 3 days a week to begin. Monday, Wednesday and Friday perhaps? Then after a week add a day at the weekend. Then after a week or so add more time, say 5 more minutes a day for a week, and so on.

How Hard Is Hard?

The most important thing with any new exercise regime is not to push yourself too far. There are a lot of sports trainers who say “no pain no gain” and, yes, that might be perfectly true if the person giving themselves pain by pushing themselves is in their 20s. The more advanced your years, the more careful you have to be about pushing your body beyond its limits. You don’t want to injure yourself and set yourself back to doing less than when you started your routine.

Older bodies don’t bounce back as well – or in some cases at all – so you have to be a lot more careful about how hard you push. Once again, if you are in any way concerned that any respiratory or cardiovascular problems you have may be aggravated by exercise, then by all means talk to your doctor about it. In general though, you can and should push yourself a little. You need to get your heart rate up, but not so much that you are gasping for breath. Only you can be the judge of how much is too much. If it feels good, continue. If it feels bad, don’t push so hard.

Beneficial Effects

As a regular walker you will begin to feel the effects over time. As you begin to push gently and get your heart rate up on a regular basis, you may start to notice you are less short of breath. As your blood is pumped around your body more actively you will perhaps notice improved circulation, mitigating potential problems like deep vein thrombosis which result from long periods of sitting. Obviously support clothing will help with conditions like DVT, but an active body and less time seated in a day provide many benefits too.

An active body has better bone strength and density. Healthy postmenopausal women who walk even just 1 mile a day have higher bone density than women who don’t. Your blood travels around your body oxygenating your tissues and reviving and revitalising your cells, even providing more oxygen to your brain. A more active lifestyle, even walking only 10-20 minutes a day, can give you increased longevity, control of your weight, and even help with conditions like diabetes by controlling blood glucose levels.

Walking Aids, Balance And Strength

Clearly, if standing or walking is a problem for you, you should take proper precautions before walking. If you require support hosiery for circulation problems or walking support in the form of a cane or one of the new high tech wheeled walkers, then you should do that.

A wheeled walker can be a boon. They have wheels so you can walk at a normal speed, but they also have brakes so you can stop the wheels and lock them off if you need to lean on something. Many also have a seat built in so you can sit for a minute if you are feeling a little short of breath or unsteady. The peace of mind of knowing you can stop if you want to takes a lot of the anxiety out of regular walking exercise, and you should investigate the supports that are right for you. Your doctor will be able to advise you of your options.

Exercise Plan – Setting Goals

You should always set goals, but make your expectations realistic and go slow. Start easy, so you don’t overstress your body and de-motivate yourself. 10 minutes, or even just 5 minutes to start is perfectly fine. After a week, add 5 minutes each day. Before long you will be able to take 30-45 minute walks and it will feel great. Have goals and stick to them, but make your targets realistic so you don’t set yourself up for a fall, either emotionally or physically.

Be sure also to hydrate. Drink water either as you walk or before and after to make sure you get proper liquids. Filtered water is best. To make it fun you can combine the exercise with a social aspect, by taking someone with you, a “walking buddy” – either a friend or man’s best friend, a dog.

However you do it, and whatever your aims, walking is far and away the best exercise for seniors. It’s so easy and effective and if pursued with care and safety it will improve the quality of your life and health beyond your expectations.

Further Reading

Walking plan for Seniors

http://seniorhealth.about.com/od/stayingfit/a/best_fitness.htm

Walking aids for Seniors

http://orthopedics.about.com/od/physicaltherapy/tp/walkingaids.htm

Walking and diabetes

http://diabetes.about.com/od/benefitsofexercise/a/walking.htm

Walking and Bone Density

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8304358

Walking and weight loss

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/fitness/lose-weight-walking-0603

Walking and arthritis

http://www.arthritistoday.org/what-you-can-do/staying-active/walking/walking-plan.php

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