Perhaps the most powerful reason for seniors to walk was published in an article in American Family Physician. The authors stated: “Regular exercise and/or increased aerobic fitness are associated with a decrease in all-cause mortality and morbidity in middle aged and older adults.” In other words, exercise can decrease mortality from all causes and decrease the rate of disease in older adults. That is a powerful statement that highlights the power of exercise, including walking.
Centuries of wisdom: walking is healthy
Hippocrates said “Walking is man’s best medicine,” and one study after another has proven him correct. Here are a few of them:
A clinical investigation published in the clinical journal Circulation reported findings from the Honolulu Heart Program. It suggests that the risk of coronary heart disease in elderly men is reduced in direct proportion to increases in the distance walked.
A study published in the JAMA network found that walking “is associated with a reduced risk of dementia” and that promoting active lifestyles “could help late-life cognitive function”.
An article in the clinical journal Sports Medicine published extensive findings on the health benefits of walking. It reported that there is “growing evidence of gains (from walking) in the prevention of heart attack and reduction of total death rates, in the treatment of hypertension and musculoskeletal disorders, and in rehabilitation after heart attack and in chronic respiratory disease.” The journal also said walking improves muscle and bone strength and improves metabolism.
A study in the The International Journal of Clinical Practice said that regular physical activity is one of the “main non-pharmaceutical measures” suggested to older patients, because typically they don’t get enough exercise or activity of any type. The study reiterated that physical activity will reduce mortality in seniors and said that regular physical activity is associated with a long list of health benefits including:
- A positive effect on primary prevention of coronary heart disease
- A significant benefit on cholesterol levels
- Reduced fat and blood pressure
- Prevention of stroke and type 2 diabetes
- Prevents of some cancers especially breast and colon cancer
- Increased bone density and reduced risk of falls
- Reduced risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in particular
Perhaps the most extensive list of the benefits of walking was published in the article in American Family Physician that we referenced earlier. In addition to some of the benefits mentioned by other studies, the article lists:
- Improves cardiac and oxygen output
- Improves blood pressure
- Decreases risk of coronary artery disease
- Improves congestive heart failure symptoms and decreases hospitalization rate
Diabetes mellitus, type 2
- Decreases incidence of diabetes
- Improves glycemic control
- Decreases hemoglobin A1C levels
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Decreases bone density loss in postmenopausal women
- Decreases hip and vertebral fractures
- Decreases risk of falling
- Improves function
- Decreases pain
- Improves quality of sleep
- Improves cognitive function
- Decreases rates of depression
- Improves short-term memory
- Potentially decreases risk of colon, breast, prostate, rectal cancer
- Improves quality of life and decreases fatigue
- Decreases all-cause mortality
- Decreases all-cause morbidity
- Decreases risk of obesity
- Improves symptoms in peripheral vascular occlusive disease
How seniors can start walking safely
Starting slowly is always the best prescription when it comes to any new exercise and the same is true for walking. When seniors begin to walk they should do as much as they can while still being able to carry on a conversation comfortably. Warm-up and cool-down periods of five to ten minutes should be included before and after each walk. This should include slow walking and stretching to warm up the muscles and avoid complications with the muscles, tendons and the heart.
The clinical journal Sports Medicine says any senior can begin a walking regimen, even those who are inactive and immobile. It recommends the following:
- Start slowly, walking at a slow pace
- Gradually increase to a regular pace
- Increase to a brisk pace
- Walk 30 minutes or more on most days
The wisdom that Hippocrates articulated more than 2,000 years ago lives on today. By starting slowly and developing a regular walking habit, seniors can experience the benefits of stronger bones and muscles, a stronger heart and a better circulatory system. Their brains will feel stronger, clearer and more vital. As Hippocrates said, walking truly is the best medicine.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.