For seniors looking for an easy, attainable way to stay active, walking may be the perfect solution. Unlike playing a sport or joining a gym, walking is free, adaptable and can be done almost anywhere. And, the remarkable health benefits are enough to convince even the most resistant exercisers to give the daily walk a try.
We all know that physical activity is vital to a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise helps improve muscle tone, heart and lung health, contributes to weight loss and enhances mood. However, getting started isn’t always easy. Walking is a simple, low impact activity that has major benefits. Seniors who spend just a half hour walking are taking huge steps in maintaining their overall health and well-being.
UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF A WALK
Walking is a popular form of daily exercise, and it’s backed by sufficient research proving a number of health benefits, some of which may surprise you. An article in Harvard Medical School’s HEALTHbeat free e-newsletter quotes director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Thomas Frieden, who states that walking is “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”
Beyond the results you might expect from a regular exercise routine, research has uncovered a few surprising health benefits to walking:
- Eases Joint Pain –According to the Arthritis Foundation®, our joints get their nutrients from fluid that circulates as we move. The impact of movement compresses and lubricates the joint cartilage, bringing oxygen and nutrients into the area. Walking also protects the joints by strengthening the muscles that support them. Studies show that walking reduces arthritis-related pain in the knees and hips, and covering five to six miles a week can prevent arthritis from developing in the first place.
- Good for Memory – Walking can help seniors avoid age-related memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. A University of California study showed that in 6,000 women age 65 and older, those who walked more experienced lower age-related memory decline. Participants who walked 2.5 miles each day had a 17% decline in memory, compared to a 25% decline in those who barely walked at all.
Another study from the University of Virginia found that men between the ages of 71 and 93 who walked more than a quarter of a mile a day were half as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who walked less.
- Boosts Immune Function – One study of more than 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes per day, five days per week, experienced 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. Walkers also showed milder symptoms and shorter durations if they did get sick.
A few theories exist to link exercise with the immune system. One theory is that as heart rate increases, blood circulates faster, sending disease-fighting antibodies and white blood cells on a high-speed chase to detect infections sooner. Another theory suggests that walking reduces stress hormones, which therefore reduces stress-induced problems such as heart disease and a higher risk of falling ill.
- Lowers Risk for Glaucoma – According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, a regular exercise regimen, such as three or more walks each week, can successfully reduce pressure in the eye. Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) damages the optic nerve, but regular exercise can have an IOP-lowering effect. This benefit only continues, though, as you keep exercising.
- Controls Weight Gain – Although this particular benefit may not be very surprising, the specific ways in which walking helps you control weight gain are quite unique. Harvard researchers studying obesity-promoting genes found that for people who walked briskly each day, the effects of such genes were cut in half. Other research found that regular walks help control weight gain by curbing cravings for chocolate and other sugary snacks. In addition, walking promotes weight loss just by taking more steps.
TAKE STEPS TOWARD A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE
Building the habit of walking regularly might be difficult for someone not used to exercising all the time. However, since a walk itself is so simple, there are a lot of ways to make it more exciting and enjoyable.
- Socialize – Form a walking group with your friends and neighbors and use your walks as a way to stay in touch regularly.
- Challenge Yourself – Set a goal each week for how long you want to walk. Devices such as pedometers can help you track the distance you travel by steps you take.
- Be Productive – Use your walk to call a friend or family member, listen to an audio book or help a canine companion get their exercise as well.
- Change It Up – Walk a different route each time. Even if you usually circle your local park, walk in the opposite direction to experience a pleasant change of pace.
Now that you know how beneficial a simple walk can be, get up and take the first steps toward a healthy senior lifestyle!
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