There’s nothing that releases endorphins and improves a person’s mood like physical activity. And one of the best activities out there, especially for seniors, is simple and accessible for almost everyone: walking! Walking keeps muscles strong and agile, moods happy and optimistic, and blood pumping to help cardiovascular health.
The Simple Act of Walking Daily Has Immense Health Benefits
This last benefit, cardiovascular health, is particularly relevant for aging seniors. As people age, their hearts have a harder time beating as quickly as needed, which in turn leads to blood not pumping as quickly as it should, which can lead to blood vessels constricting and arteries hardening.
All of this together leads to an increased risk of:
- heart disease
- heart failure
- problems with the eyes and kidneys in those over the age of 65.
The good news is that walking can help mitigate the risk of all of these and more!
1. How does walking lower the risk of heart disease?
Walking regularly forces your heart to work just a little bit harder than it normally does. This in turn trains the heart to beat better, which in turn helps your blood pump as it should and helps keep your blood vessels and arteries strong. This lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol, which reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Walking regularly over time also helps you maintain a healthy weight. It can also help those who take up walking after a long period of inactivity to lose weight and reduce body fat. The more you walk, the more walking helps to strengthen muscles and bones, which leads to better endurance and energy levels over time. This, in turn, allows you to begin walking a little bit further and a little bit faster, which helps your heart work just a little bit better, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of increased health and lowered risk of heart disease.
2. Do I need to walk a certain distance or speed?
Health experts say for those who have been inactive for a period of time, even slow, short walks are better than nothing. However, for those who have begun to walk more regularly or are used to a slightly more active lifestyle than sedentary, there are certain levels of speed and distance that research has proven to be more beneficial than others.
- Studies show that for those who walk an average of 2.5 hours a week, the risk of heart disease is cut by close to 30%.
Most health professionals agree that the best way to hit 2.5 hours a week is to stretch it out over time; that is, people should shoot to walk at least 20 minutes each day or walk 30 minutes five days a week.
Speed isn’t as essential, especially for seniors. It’s far more important for seniors to walk at a pace that will protect them from the risk of falling, and challenge themselves by pushing distance instead of speed.
- Studies show that seniors who choose to walk at least a third of a mile each day have a 47% lower risk of heart disease than those who walk a quarter mile or less each week.
However, for seniors who are able to challenge themselves to a brisker pace, studies have shown that seniors who are able to walk faster than three miles an hour (or, said another way, who can complete a mile in under 20 minutes), the risk of heart disease is cut in half.
3. Should I do anything in addition to walking?
Although lifting weights isn’t essential, for seniors who are able to do so, cross training will help them build muscle, which will help them walk further and faster and be more protected against falling. Strength building has the added benefit of helping to alleviate arthritis pain and builds bone density.
If walking is outside of a senior’s ability level, there are still several other ways to get similar health benefits: swimming and stationary biking are two great places to start.
The most important thing to do, though, is to consult a primary care doctor and continue to have regular check ups to ensure that your body is working properly.
With the warm weather of spring arriving soon, now is the time to get into a walking routine.
At Morningside, we maintain beautiful walkways that allow seniors to take full advantage of all the health benefits walking has to offer year round! Our walking club frequently sees a boost in membership right around now. If you and your loved one are interested in touring a senior living community to walk our paths yourself, give us a call! We offer guided tours to showcase our vibrant community. Give us a call or visit us online to schedule a tour today. We would love to show you around!