Monday, April 22, 2019

Walking to Workout

Exercise is one of the most fairly understood activities that people know will benefit their health. It has a widespread and positive impact not just on physical health, but mental and emotional well-being too. In addition to supporting a healthy weight and combating lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and heart disease, exercise has also been shown to improve memory and thinking skills which is especially important for older adults who are at a higher risk of developing dementia.

Common Barriers to Exercise for Older Adults

Unfortunately, most older adults don’t get the recommended amount of exercise each week including 150 minutes minimum of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes minimum of vigorous-intensity physical activity. Some estimates show that upwards of over half of all adults over the age of 64 don’t exercise regularly.

While seniors are knowledgeable of the impact regular exercise can have on their health,  barriers still prevent them from moving more including:
  •     Lack of interest
  •     Perceived lack of fitness
  •     Joint pain
  •     Shortness of breath
  •     Doubt in the efficacy of exercise
  •     Reduced energy levels
  •     Fear of falling
  •     Limited access to a gym, safe walking areas, etc.
Because of its low-impact nature and lack of special requirements (anyone can do it, no equipment needed), walking can provide the exercise solution older adults need to sit less and move more.

Overcoming Exercise Shortfalls with Walking

Walking is quite possibly one of the easiest and most accessible ways to get exercise, however, it can be daunting for someone who is recovering from a fall or already experiences mobility limitations that require the use of a walking aid. Walking also may not “feel” like exercise so people forgo it all together for inactivity instead.

Benefits of walking include enhanced aerobic capacity, improved muscle tone and bone density, increased lung capacity, and better balance, coordination, and agility skills. In one study, walking one mile a day was even shown to reduce dementia risk by 50 percent! Plus, walking with other people incorporates a social component that helps combat social isolation and depression which is prevalent among some older populations.
  • Lose your breath - walking will offer the greatest health benefits when it’s done at a moderate-intensity in which you experience an increased heart rate and heavier breathing and, in turn, run out of breath while you are talking to your walking mate, for example. The easiest way to add enough challenge to your walk to make it more effective is to gradually increase your speed and/or incorporate more inclines into your walking route.
  • Be prepared - you are going to be willing to push yourself further in your walk if you are prepared with the right gear to help you succeed. A good pair of walking shoes should fit well (but not too snugly) and not be worn out. Lightweight, breathable walking clothes are ideal as is a travel-friendly walking aid like a collapsible cane or travel walker (for seniors with mobility limitations and fear of falling).
  • Find interesting environments to walk in - the local botanical gardens, a walking trail around a nearby lake, in the park, at the mall, on a treadmill in the gym . . . the number of places you can go for a walk are plentiful and can add fun and variety to your exercise routine.
  • Bring a buddy - exercise partners can play an important role in both holding you accountable to your walking routine as well as providing motivation and encouragement. Research has shown that a person who spends most of their time with people who share similar values about their health and fitness will make better decisions about their own health and fitness accordingly.
  • Add in sprints - no you don’t have to take off like it’s the 100-meter dash at the Olympics, but adding in short sprints of high-intensity activity could increase the calorie-burn and muscle-build of your walk. 10 squats or lunges every 5 or 10 minutes of your walk or doing 1 minute of jumping jacks at the beginning and end of your walk are good places to start.
  • Incorporate more walking into your day - there are simple ways to get more steps in during the day including parking further away from your destinations so you have to walk further to the door, taking stairs instead of elevators, and walking short distances instead of driving, i.e. to a neighbor’s house or the store.
Exercise Ideas Outside of Walking

For some seniors, walking fast enough to get your heart rate up simply isn’t feasible due to chronic lower-limb pain like you see with diabetic neuropathy or other disability or dysfunction like bad arthritis. Fortunately, there are other physical activities that are just as low-impact and still effective including water aerobics, seated exercises with upper body aerobics, resistance band workouts, and hand pedal exercising.

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