If you’re an older adult looking to ramp up your daily movement, walking will give you a lot of bang for your buck: Not only is it absolutely FREE, but you’ll get a ton of health benefits. Regular walks can strengthen your muscles, bones, and joints, help reduce your blood pressure, improve your balance, and strengthen your immune system. Walking is great for your brain, too. According to the CDC, just one session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (like a brisk walk) can improve your sleep, memory, and mental sharpness.
So where do you start? And how much walking per day or week should you aim for? Read on for some inspiration and ideas, and remember to talk to your doctor before you make any changes to your movement routines.
Starting from Zero
When your lifestyle is mostly sedentary, the idea of going for a walk every day can be intimidating, almost exhausting you before you even begin! You’re definitely not alone in those feelings, but the good news is that even the tiniest first steps (no pun intended) can make a positive impact on your health. When it comes to movement, IT ALL COUNTS. We’re talking about activities as simple as cleaning up around the house, strolling through your garden to check on your tomatoes, or wandering the aisles at the grocery store. Chances are, you’re incorporating those activities into your life already, so try to build upon them and look for more day-to-day activities that involve walking to add to your repertoire.
How Often and How Much Do I Need to Walk?
The CDC recommends that adults aged 65 and older should shoot for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity, like brisk walking. That breaks down to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If that sounds overwhelming, start slow, especially if you’re not used to walking around a lot. Try adding a few steps or a couple of minutes of walking every day to build up your endurance and maintain a moderate intensity exercise level. Exercising at a “moderate” means that you can hold a conversation during your walk, but that singing a song would be tough.
What if I'm only able to walk for a couple of minutes?
Well, scientists have some fantastic news: research shows that as little as two to five minutes of light walking can help regulate blood sugar levels. For the best results, grab your Camino, hit the road, and take a walk within 60 to 90 minutes of finishing a meal. Walking any amount at any time is great for your overall health, but walking within that 60 to 90 minute window minimizes the blood sugar spikes that tend to happen after eating. Check out "How Can Seniors Lower Their Blood Sugar in Just Two Minutes?" to learn more. Where Should I Walk? Everywhere and anywhere! Well, almost anywhere…it’s probably a good idea to stay away from busy traffic and steep cliffs. But outside, inside, around the house, down the driveway, wherever you feel comfortable is the perfect place to start. You may have heard the term “green exercise,” which simply means taking your activity outside. Green exercise can help you reconnect with nature, add a little variety to your routine, and get some sun exposure, which your body needs to make Vitamin D. If sun exposure isn’t your thing, walk through a mall, an airport, a grocery store, or around your garage. Walking is great for you no matter where you do it.
How Do I Walk Safely?
Before you grab your Camino and hit the road, put on some good-fitting, comfortable walking shoes. Make sure your phone is charged and bring it with you in case of an emergency. For extra motivation, conversation, and safety, bring a friend! Walk with a companion if you’re worried about falling or getting tired, and if you do start to get tired, imbalanced, or out of breath, stop and rest.
Please Stay Safe
If you’re just getting started with your walking routine, remember that some muscle soreness is normal, but Bethesda Health recommends that you contact your doctor if you experience the following:
• Chest pain
• Shortness of breath
• Unplanned weight loss
• Sores that won’t heal
• Foot pain
Movement is indeed Magic, and walking is a free tool to help you stay active, healthy, and engaged as you age. Don’t be afraid to lace up those sneakers and take the first step!
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For more information about the benefits of walking for seniors, check out the following resources: