When you think about it, walking is the best of both worlds.
It delivers all the health benefits of a regular exercise program without the negative effects of some of the more high-impact activities like running.
That’s what makes walking particularly excellent for older adults. It can help extend your lifespan, lower the risk of age-related illnesses, and boost your mental wellness.
Here’s what you need to know about how walking helps you stay healthy, and how you can get started with a walking program today.
Healthy Aging: The Physical Wellness Benefits of Walking
Walking keeps you healthy as you age. In fact, there’s a marked difference in the health of those who regularly exercise and those who don’t as the years go by.
“Older people who are physically more active and who exercise regularly are more likely to walk independently and do other activities of daily living on their own compared to sedentary elders,” Howard LeWine, M.D., writes for Harvard Health Publishing.
LeWine cites a report by Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) that found through a trial of men and women ages 70-89 that those who took part in a daily exercise program over the course of 2½ years were “28% less likely to have become disabled” than a second group that did not take part in the exercise program.
However, the health benefits of walking for seniors don’t stop there. AARP lists the following health benefits of a daily fitness walk:
- Weight management. This, in turn, can help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and more.
- Lower blood pressure. As AARP points out, “Physical activity strengthens the heart so it can pump more blood with less effort and with less pressure on the arteries.”
- Lower risk of heart attack and improved heart health. AARP cites a study that found a brisk daily walk was linked to “a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of heart disease in women.” For men, a Harvard study on walking and health found that “Among 44,452 male health professionals, walking at least 30 minutes a day was linked to an 18% lower risk of coronary artery disease.”
- Decreased risk of stroke. If you’re a regular walker (about an hour a day, five days a week), you can reduce your risk of stroke.
- Prevention of hip fractures. There is scientific evidence to suggest that regular exercise, like walking, can help lower the risk of hip fractures.
Running can provide these same benefits, but the advantage of walking over running is that running is a high-impact activity that can cause a lot of stress on your joints. Walking, by comparison, does not put you at as high of a risk for exercise-related injuries.
The best part is, it’s never too late to start reaping the rewards of walking.
“Some older people may have the impression that they have passed the age at which starting an exercise program will do them any good. According to the LIFE results, taking up exercise at any age offers benefits down the road,” LeWine says.
Walking Helps with Mental Health, as Well
It’s not just physical wellness—walking helps boost your mood. It can help you feel more energized and engaged, and may even bring emotions like joy, excitement, and interest.
This may seem obvious. If you’re strolling down a meandering path lined with shady trees and singing birds, it’s hard to feel grumpy. But there’s research out there that proves walking boosts the mood even when you’re faced with something unpleasant.
In an oft-cited study on the effects of walking, Jeff Miller, Ph.D., and Zlatan Krizan, Ph.D., found that walking helps facilitate positive emotions, even when people expect a bad experience. They wrote that walking can “override the effects of other emotionally relevant events such as boredom and dread.”
They found this by assigning two groups of students to a tour of a boring campus building. Both groups were told they would have to write a lengthy essay about it afterward, but one group was given a video tour while the other group completed the tour on foot. The group that walked the tour ended up reporting more positive feelings at the end than the group that didn’t.
The moral of the story: if you’re feeling a little bored or listless, take a walk. It can help lift your spirits and revitalize your energy.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Walking
- Find a friend. Ask a friend or family member to be your walking buddy. A walking buddy can help you stay on track with your fitness goals and help pass the time with conversation.
- Lace up the right shoes. Different shoes are suited for different activities. The Mayo Clinic offers some beneficial tips for choosing the right walking shoes, including looking for features like an Achilles tendon protector, a toe box, and a heel collar.
- Don’t overdo it. Check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. Once you have the all-clear, start with shorter walks and work your way up. Maintain a brisk walk, but if you’re out of breath and unable to carry a conversation, ease up.
- Enhance your walk with audio. If your walks are starting to get a bit stale, try adding some music, a podcast, or an audiobook. Just be sure to remain aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re walking early in the morning or at dusk.
More Tips on Maintaining Your Physical Wellness as You Age
If you’re looking for other ways to stay healthy and fit, or merely trying to shake up your routine, read these next:
Physical wellness is an integral part of The Esquiline’s wellness philosophy, but it’s only one part of a whole. Social, intellectual, and spiritual wellness play a role, as well. If you’re interested in learning more tips on how to live life to the fullest in body, mind, and spirit, download a copy of our free guide, Continuing to Make Your Mark.