Start A Walking Program

As you age, your muscle mass begins to decrease.  Adults can lose 3-5% of muscle mass during each subsequent decade of life.  To strengthen and maintain muscle mass, it is essential to stay active. Strong muscles are important for our balance, bone strength and a healthier heart. Exercise also reduces the risk of chronic diseases.

Research shows that when individuals walk three or more times a week, the risk of dementia is reduced by 35%. Your cognitive functions such as memory and thinking improve the more you exercise.  A recent study also found that people who exercised had 43 percent fewer “bad” mental health days compared to people who didn’t exercise.

Here are more benefits of walking:

  • Increases energy and reduces fatigue.
  • Refreshes the mind by relieving stress and tension.
  • Helpts to control diabetes and delay or even prevent cancer, stroke, heart disease and osteoporosis.
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Strengthens bones, improves heart, lungs and muscle performance.
  • Helps to keep weight under control resulting in a positive body image.
  • May reduce blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and improve digestion.
  • Increased balance and stability to prevent falls. Falling can lead to broken hips and other bones.
  • Walking will help to alleviate symptoms of depression and improve your overall sense of well being.  Regular walking can help older adults maintain independence.

Adding a walking program to your lifestyle is free, easily accessible and convenient. Specialized equipment is not necessary. All you need are a pair of comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing for the weather. As your fitness level improves you can increase your pace to a brisk walk.

Before Starting Your Walking Program

It is never too late for seniors to start engaging in a regular exercise routine.  Before you do please check in with your physician if you experience any of the following:

  • You have been sendentary for more than a year
  • Over the age of 65 and do not exercise
  • Experienced heart problems
  • You have high blood pressure or diabetes
  • You get chest pains, especially when you exert yourself
  • You sometimes feel faint or have dizzy spells
  • Other health issues

Choose The Right Walking Shoes

Once you’ve been given the go ahead to start exercising, let’s take a look at the right walking shoes to choose. Look for shoes with:

  • The soles should be flexible including the ball of the foot. Flexibility helps to prevent blisters.
  • Fabrics that breathe are best such as nylon and polyester. Shoes made from leather or synthetic are also acceptable.
  • They should feel comfortable immediately with no need to break them in. Walk around the store to test them out. Ensure the stitching doesn’t rub your feet.
  • Purchase your shoes in the evening. This is when your feet have swelled over the course of the day. Wear the socks you plan to wear when you start your walking program.
  • You should be able to insert your thumb between your longest toe and the front of your shoe. You should be able to wiggle your toes when you stand. Your heel should not move up and down when you walk.
  • Your walking shoes lose support after a while. If you experience discomfort in your legs or feet, it’s time to replace them. While most people can start a walking program, if you experience pain, consult with your physician.
  • Choose shoes with reflective material.

Safety Tips While Walking

It’s a good idea to be aware of safety tips so you can enjoy your new walking program. Observe the rules and etiquette to keep you safe:

  • If your walking route doesn’t have sidewalks or paths and you need to walk on the road, always walk in the direction of oncoming traffic.
  • Make eye contact with drivers.
  • Dress to be seen, especially at night. Wear light-colored clothing with reflective material or strips. Wear shoes with reflective material on the heels.
  • Try not to walk alone. Not only is walking with a training partner safer but is much more enjoyable. Having a partner also motivates you to get out more.
  • If you are going to be walking alone, let someone know your route and when you are expected to return.
  • Leave accessories at home like jewellery. Carry a piece of ID, perhaps a stopwatch, a phone for emergencies and any relevant medical information.
  • Vary your routes so you keep any would-be muggers off your patterns. It’s also more enjoyable to experience different routes.
  • If it makes you feel safer, carry hand-held spray devices that contain mace.
  • If you’re walking on a path, always walk on the right side so others can easily pass. If you’re walking with one or more companions, don’t hog the path.
  • Leave your earphones at home. You always want to be alert to your surroundings.
  • Don’t wander off trails and always walk where you feel safe. Choose a flat, soft surface to avoid unnecessary tripping.
  • Dress for the weather including the air quality index. If it’s too cold or hot to walk outside, consider walking indoors like a mall or in your home.
  • Drink water every 20 minutes.
  • Stop walking and take a break if you feel pain, fatigue or shortness of breath.
  • Don’t carry weights as they can cause strain and affect your walking gait.

Let’s Get Started

  • Start with walking a distance you can do now – 20 paces, across a room or to the front sidewalk. Do what you can. Start with 5, 10 or 30 minutes, whatever you are comfortable with. Take your time and breathe naturally.
  • Walk every second day for a week or two, slowly building up to once a day.
  • Once you can walk daily, take a day off after 3 or 4 days.
  • Slowly increase your pace and distance until you can walk up to 150 minutes a week.
  • Walk straight, look forward and keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Your heel should make contact with the ground first, then roll your foot forward from heel to toe. Pass over the ball of your foot and push off with your toes.
  • Take short steps. Swing your arms naturally. The faster your arms swing, the quicker the walk.

Try to eventually work up to walking 45 minutes a time, three to five days a week. You will achieve the greatest mental health benefits with this schedule.

Stay Motivated

Sometimes it can be difficult to embark on a new habit. Staying motivated is the key to being consistent and disciplined. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated:

  • Set realistic and measurable goals. Goals will instill a sense of purpose and pride in your accomplishments. Examples of goals:
    • Walking 10 minutes today, 15 minutes tomorrow
    • Walking 1 kilometer today, 1.5 tomorrow
  • Start a journal to record your achievements and review them from time to time.
  • Choose the best time that suits you to fit your walk in. Perhaps first thing in the morning or the evening, whatever works for you.
  • Join a walking group. If you can’t find one, start one up with your friends, family or neighbors.
  • As you walk, practice mindfulness. Be aware of your surroundings, the birds, the wind and your pace. Be in the moment.
  • Try a different route each week to keep you more interested.
  • If you have high blood pressure or other health issues, monitor them to observe improvements.

If you can incorporate walking into your lifestyle everyday, you will experience benefits right away. It’s relatively easy to also increase your walking. Walk to the store instead of driving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Purchase a dog for dog-walking and companionship. Park further away from your destination so you can walk a couple of blocks. Enjoy your time outdoors and stay healthy!


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