Walking may be the best form of physical exercise for seniors. Packed with health benefits, walking has all of the hallmarks of senior-friendly physical exercise: it can be performed at low or moderate intensity, it’s easy on joints, it has a low risk of injury, and it’s easy to get started with.
We’re not the only ones who think walking is ideal exercise for older adults. Many researchers think so too. Medical researchers have documented a number of clear health benefits to walking for seniors, including the eight examples listed below.
Why Walking Is Perfect Exercise for Seniors
- Walking Can Be Just as Effective as Running. A common misperception about exercise is that you cannot achieve the benefits of high-intensity exercise through other, less intense activities. A recent study conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has disproved this notion. The study found that so long as study participants used up the same number of calories when exercising, walking and running were equally effective at managing participants cardiovascular health.
- Walking Is Easier to Stick With. People give up on high-intensity exercise routines quickly. In fact, 67% of people with gym memberships never use them. Moderate exercise like walking, on the other hand, is much easier to continue long-term. That’s what researchers discovered in 2015 at Japan’s Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine. Researchers were following up on a study performed in 2007, where participants aged 44 to 78 were asked to walk for 30 minutes a day, three times a week. When researchers checked back in on the subjects eight years later, 70% of the participants were still following the routine.
- Walking Improves Cardiovascular Health. The biggest health benefits to walking for seniors are in terms of cardiovascular health. Countless studies have linked regular walking with heart-health benefits. Walking has been linked in men and women with lower risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cardiac arrest. Even small amounts of walking each week have been shown to reduce these risks around 15% to 20%. Meanwhile, studies of daily walking regimens have shown a 30% to 50% reduction in participants’ risk of cardiac arrest.
- Walking Fights Weight Problems. Any physical exercise will burn calories and help the person exercising manage their weight. But walking has been scientifically linked to further health benefits. Researchers at Harvard who study genetic links to obesity have found that one hour of walking a day cuts the effects of 32 obesity-promoting genes in half. Multiple studies, meanwhile, have found that walking reduces cravings for sugary foods, even in stressful situations.
- Walking Boosts Your Immune System. Walking’s health benefits include protection against day-to-day illness. Studies have found that regular walkers get sick less frequently and for shorter periods than people who don’t exercise. One study discovered that people who walked 20 minutes a day, five days a week, took 43% fewer sick days compared to people who did not exercise.
- Walking Reduces Risk of Elderly Disability. A regular walk doesn’t just get seniors out of the home — it could help them stay at home, too. A study out of the University of Georgia in 2008 found that regular walking reduced elderly adults’ risk of developing a physical disability by 41%, helping participants maintain their independence and age in place.
- Walking Prevents and Reduces Pain from Arthritis. If you have arthritis, you might think that walking will be too painful for you to do regularly. Multiple studies, however, have found that walking actually reduces arthritis pain. Walking lubricates knee and hip joints and strengthens surrounding muscles, reducing the strain placed on the joint itself.
- Walking Can Add Years to Your Life. Walking offers numerous health benefits to seniors and younger individuals alike, so it’s no surprise that walking is linked with a longer lifespan. What might surprise you is just how many years walking can add to your life. In a 2015 study at St. George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London, researchers found that walking 25 minutes a day added up to seven years to participants’ lifespans.
Making Walking Part of Seniors’ Routines
While it’s easier to get most people to try walking compared to other types of exercise, it can sometimes still be difficult to make walking a part of seniors’ daily routines. Here are a few tips on how you can encourage an older loved one to make walking a part of their life:
- Start small. It’s easier to start with light walking for short distances than a daily half-hour of brisk walking.
- If your loved one isn’t interested in walking for the sake of walking, try building it into a different activity, like trips to a nearby park for fresh air.
- See if you can find alternatives to walking outdoors when the weather is too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter.
- Encourage your loved one, but don’t push them past the point where they feel comfortable.
Walking is one area where caregivers can make a big difference. It is much easier to maintain any new routine when you have a partner. A family caregiver may fill this role. In other cases, a care professional makes an ideal partner for seniors’ walking routines.
If you are looking for a caregiver for an elderly loved one, we encourage you to contact your local Visiting Angels. Our caregivers are compassionate professionals who make walking easier and more enjoyable for their clients. Simply call us at 800-365-4189 or search for a Visiting Angels office near you to get started.