For seniors looking to add more exercise to their daily routine, walking may be the perfect solution. Unlike playing a sport or joining a gym, walking is free, adaptable and can be done almost anywhere. Plus, the remarkable health benefits are enough to make a walk around the neighborhood well worth your while.
“Any other form of physical activity, such as walking, is vital to a healthy senior lifestyle,” says Carmen Duren, Executive Director at Provident Village at Canton in Canton, GA. “Regular exercise helps improve muscle tone, heart and lung health, contributes to weight loss and enhances mood. In addition to eating well and practicing healthy habits, seniors who spend just a half hour walking three to five days a week are taking major steps in maintaining their overall health and well-being.”
Unexpected Benefits of Taking a Walk
The popularity of walking as a form of daily exercise is backed by sufficient research endorsing a number of health benefits, some of which may surprise you. An article in Harvard Medical School’s HEALTHbeat 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, including:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Benefits the Memory – Walking can help seniors avoid age-related memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds 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.
4. Lowers Risk for Glaucoma – According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, a regular exercise regimen, such as walking three or more times 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.
5. 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 walking helps control weight gain by curbing cravings for chocolate and other sugary snacks.
Taking Steps Toward a Healthier Way of Life
Beginning a routine of walking regularly might be difficult for someone not used to exercising all the time. However, since walking 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 miles you travel in 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, walking in the opposite direction can offer a pleasant change of pace.
“Exercise can be a great path to total well-being,” says Duren. “At Provident Village at Canton, we consider physical wellness to be just one part of living vibrantly. Combined with mental and social wellness, physical activity helps our residents stay energized and enjoy all the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle.
“From walking clubs to yoga, strength training and more, our community strives to make every resource to active living available to our residents. Our specialized programming allows us to tailor activities to each person’s individual health requirements, physical abilities and personal goals. There’s something for everyone at Provident Village!”
Live Vibrantly! at Provident Village at Canton
At Provident Village at Canton, we believe vibrant days ensure bright tomorrows, so we’ve created a community where seniors, quite simply, Live Vibrantly! Whether it’s in our Assisted Living Community or Memory Care Neighborhood, each day we celebrate the individuality and strengths of each resident.
At Provident Village, to Live Vibrantly! means that days are filled with joy, vitality, growth and security. It means residents are socially active and personally empowered, with access to the personalized care and support they need to live fully. It means residing in a community where intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical care are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Our compassionate Care Partners dedicate each day to enriching the lives of our residents. They customize the level of attention and activities to each resident’s specific needs and abilities. Our living environments are warm and inviting, with comfortable furnishings, beautiful fixtures and natural elements that bring the outdoors inside.