Walking for Seniors
You have heard it a million times, from your doctor, your spouse, your kids, heck – even your dental hygienist is telling you that you should start walking for exercise. They say that walking is good for your health. There are even claims made that walking a regular walking program slows down the aging process!
Why Walk? Its good for you!
So, you think it is too good to be true? Or maybe you just aren’t convinced? Well, walking as a form of regular exercise offers:
- Physical health benefits
- Mood and attitude improvements and
- Social or lifestyle enhancement
Walking is also a fantastic “gateway” exercise: a way to ease into being more fit and active so that other more challenging activities such as hiking or running may eventually be possible too.
It's easy to get started. And unlike ballroom dancing or Tai Chi, for example, there is no learning curve. You already know how to walk; no lessons or special classes are required.
A walking program can be modified to fit your current fitness level and adjusted as your situation changes. Feeling well? Walk a little farther or pick up the pace. Recovering from surgery or side effects of chemotherapy? Slow down or cut back. You can do more or less depending upon how you feel, but even when your health is not great a moderate walking program will help you feel better and improve your overall recovery.
Walking is extremely inexpensive. No fancy gear to buy, no gym or health club membership is needed, no classes to take. You can even star indoors in your own home if need be, walking in place or up and down stairs for a few minutes daily to begin to get into the habit. One fit senior woman, uncertain about walking in her urban neighborhood, walked for 30 minutes each day in her driveway to ensure safety while getting her walks in. With walking, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Comfortable, well-fitting shoes are key. Personal preference and the places you plan to walk will dictate whether you go for a sneaker style versus a hiking boot style. Are you walking on a very hard surface, like city sidewalks or mall floors? Aim for extra cushioning. Do you think you will walk mostly on rail trails, grassy surfaces or asphalt? A stiffer, more supportive boot style may work better. Do you live in a hot climate? Protective and supportive sandals are available and a great choice for keeping feet cool – these are not the flip flips or Dr. Scholls of the 1970s! Teva, as an example, makes an excellent walking sandal. What is important is that you keep your feet comfortable: not too hot, not too cold, nothing too tight (expect on a hot day or a longer walk that your feet may swell. Loosen laces to ease any discomfort.), nothing that rubs or abrades, and a nice thick sole to offer protection from the rocky road.
Socks? Since when are socks gear, you ask? Socks have changed, friends, since the white cotton “tube” socks of the 1970s. Choose socks that fit well, snug but not constricting, and are made from wicking material (try coolmax or itchfree wool). A number of companies make an excellent, if not dizzying, array of choices and styles.
If you want to spread the workout and gain some upper body muscle benefit, and you will be walking outdoors, you might want to consider hiking or trekking poles. Poles are also highly recommended if you have knee or hip pain to lessen the impact, and are great walking aids for those getting back into walking after hip or knee replacements. Try them out on level ground, getting used to the swing and push motion and remember that at rest with your hands on the handles, your arms should be bent at 90 degree angles.
Some people prefer the sweat suit or tracksuit of past decades and they work just fine. If you experience chafing or discomfort from clothing, consider trying some snug spandex blend clothes, such as bicycle shorts or yoga pants; your thighs will thank you!
Hat and Sunblock
If you're walking outside in sunny climates, good for you! Consider a hat, sunblock and sunglasses. Remember to calculate how long you think you will be outside and reapply the sunblock if necessary.
If you know that you won’t or can’t walk outdoors, you might consider purchasing a treadmill. Benefits include the ease of walking in your own home whenever you want to, any time of day or night and in any weather. But some users complain of boredom or monotony and treadmills can be tricky to get used to. Good coordination is important in learning to get on and off safely. Treadmills vary tremendously from complex thousand dollar machines to simple and inexpensive models. Be sure to try several different models at a health club or showroom before making any decisions.
Is this all very new to you? You might want to get the A-OK from your doctor along with some guidelines for how long and how often you should and could walk. One rule of thumb when climbing up the fitness ladder is to increase your workouts slowly and gradually. Doing too much too quickly is a prime cause of injury or discomfort.
Other Safety Tips
- Don’t wear headphones when you walk. Stay alert and attuned to the world around you. Look and listen to what’s going on all around you.
- Don’t walk on rocky, rooty or uneven ground when you are first starting out, especially if you have any issues with balance. Stick to sidewalks, malls, or baking trails until you have developed some strength and improved balance.
- Consider carrying a personal safety spray for those just in case moments involving unleashed dogs or other unwanted company.
- Don’t let your ego write checks that your body can’t cover. Take your time building up distance, frequency or pace.
After receiving your clearance from your doctor, and some clear guidelines from him or her about just how much you should be doing, decide where you think you might enjoy walking the very most. Ask yourself: how can I stack the deck in my favor? What can I plan into my routine that will guarantee that I stick with this program and really enjoy myself while I exercise? Perhaps finding a walking group or club will be your next step, or perhaps using a map of your neighborhood and designing an interesting route. Now you are ready to choose shoes that best match your terrain and walking style. Pick up poles (try craigslist or a local freecycle group first before buying retail) if you want to use them and you are cookin’ with gas!
Expect to feel it at first. Some mild muscle soreness is normal. Joint pain should improve, not increase. If you experience real discomfort or pain, back off from your program for a couple of days and get help diagnosing what is going on with your body. Often the solution is as simple as trying a different pair of shoes or walking on a flatter surface (the side of the road is graded to allow for rain to run off).
Good luck, enjoy, be safe and most importantly, have a blast
- General Information on Walking Later in Life
- Getting Started Walking for Seniors
- Fun Walking Programs to Try