Walking is great for everyone. It’s low-impact and appropriate for any fitness level. It’s especially great, however, for seniors. While patients of all ages may struggle with peripheral health conditions, seniors usually have more concerns, and they are often about more serious conditions.
Walking has a number of benefits that are especially useful for seniors. These benefits combat specific issues, such as joint pain and muscle loss that plague many senior patients. It can be difficult for seniors to find safe exercises they can enjoy as their fitness standards change, but walking remains one of the very best healthy practices for any patient.
Safe Exercises for Seniors
Seniors face additional health concerns, including increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Many exercises are far too strenuous for this reason. Still, there are some great exercises available for seniors. They include the following.
- Swimming and water aerobics
- “Chair” sports, like chair volleyball
- Light dancing
Of these, walking is the easiest to find time for. It’s also easier to find a place to walk rather than swim. You can walk at any time of day, alone or in company, unlike chair sports, and while dancing is fun, it isn’t as fun without a partner. Seniors can walk indoors or outside, but walking outdoors has many more benefits that are great seniors. When the weather does not cooperate, however, walking inside is a great alternative.
The Best Benefits of Walking for Seniors
Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Nothing is better for joints than regular exercise, and few exercises are as low-impact as walking. This regular motion keeps joints limber and prevents stiffening. A regular walking habit dramatically reduces the chance of developing painful conditions like arthritis. It can even improve the pain of existing joint conditions. The longer you walk, the less painful your joints should become. While walking cannot cure arthritis, it can dramatically reduce the symptoms and limit further damage.
Walking can help pain in other parts of the body as well. This mild exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which boost positive mood and help reduce pain. No matter what part of your body aches, endorphins can help lessen the sting. The health benefits of walking can tangentially improve other painful conditions that may be causing pain as well. All the body’s systems are interconnected, and helping one can support another. Walking is especially great for back pain. Not only is your back supported by the muscles in your legs and hips, but your back is made up of many small joints. As we discussed in the point above, walking is great for joints.
Your heart works hard, night and day. It’s usually one of the first organs to show its mileage, and seniors have to take special care to support theirs. It’s equally important not to place undue strain on the heart, and exercise increases both heart rate and blood pressure. This makes many exercises unfit and even dangerous for seniors, who are at increased risk of heart attacks. Walking reduces cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease. It also lowers blood sugar and doesn’t elevate heart rates to unsafe levels. It’s the perfect balance of heart-healthy benefits and low-stress exertion.
As you age, your body makes weight loss more and more difficult. You will discover foods that never made a difference in your size and shape suddenly create problems. Diets have to shift with age to reflect altered nutritional needs, and many doctors suggest seniors forego salt as much as possible, even if they don’t suffer from hypertension or blood pressure problems. Many seniors also voluntarily diet to combat the effects of their changing metabolisms. Keeping a healthy weight is one of the biggest factors in your general health, and walking can help you maintain or even lose weight. While fast walks may be impossible for some individuals, regular activity and gentle motion still consume calories. Walking also builds muscle mass, and strong muscles consume calories even when you’re at rest.
Muscle mass is harder to develop and maintain as you age, but it’s a cornerstone for good health and an active lifestyle. Thankfully, regular walks can combat lessening muscle mass and even help you develop stronger muscles than you had before. The more you walk, the better your muscles will become. This benefit contributes to others, including heart health and weight loss.
Mental health is just as important for seniors as it is for college kids and young parents. Exercising alone promotes mental health by releasing endorphins, which boost mood and stabilize emotions. However, exercising in a group is even better. Socializing is an important part of mental health, and having a regular activity to share with friends helps establish regular socializing habits. The fact that you can release endorphins by walking while also enjoying company means you get more out of the experience. These two things benefit each other to create a boon for your mental health. Walking with a group is especially important during the winter, when many patients suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Staying fit is hard, especially when you face additional challenges like unexpected weight gain and joint problems. Although seniors often have to work harder to achieve their fitness goals, they also reap higher rewards for their efforts. Exercise can be fun at any age, and seniors in retirement have the advantage of time. They can dedicate more time to walks than many other patients, and can take advantage of parks, nature trails, and other recreational locations during the optimal parts of the day.
Seniors face the additional burden of extra health concerns, but walking is great medicine. It improves almost every facet of an individual’s health, from the heart to the mind. It’s an opportunity to reclaim lost muscle mass, and a regular walking habit assists seniors seeking to maintain an active lifestyle. It’s always a good day to take a walk.