For seniors, taking up a walking program can have numerous benefits for overall health and well-being. It can help you strengthen your bones and muscles, lose weight, improve balance and coordination and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
But before you get started, you’ll need to take a few things into consideration. Use these seven walking tips for seniors to make your workouts as safe and enjoyable as possible.
WARM UP AND COOL DOWN
Even though walking is a low-impact activity, to prevent muscle strains or other unnecessary injuries, you’ll need to properly warm up and cool down.
A warmup helps increase blood circulation, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. This helps make your muscles more pliable and reactive, readying the body for exercise. On the other hand, a cooldown helps decrease the buildup of lactic acid, which helps prevent aching pains and soreness.
TRACK THE WEATHER
Rain, cold weather and rising temps in the summer can all make for a dangerous situation if you aren’t prepared. When it’s cold outside, make sure you layer your clothing so you can remove layers if you start to get too warm. In hotter temperatures, wear sunscreen or cover up and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Also, it’s important to recognize when the conditions aren’t safe for walking outdoors. In the winter, sidewalks can become slippery, frigid temperatures can cause numbness and make your muscles stiff and summer’s extreme heat can make heat stroke more likely. On these days, opt for a treadmill or another low-impact activity like swimming or cycling until it’s safe to head outdoors again. Similarly, air quality indexes should also be checked before you head outside to protect your respiratory system and overall health.
USE THE PROPER GEAR
Moisture-wicking sportswear, a hat and sunglasses are all pieces of equipment that can help make your workout more comfortable. But when you begin walking, the most important piece of equipment you can invest in is your footwear.
Instead of just wearing what you have, consider purchasing a dedicated walking shoe. These shoes will generally have a lower heel than a running shoe, will be supportive during the activity and provide good traction to prevent falls on loose or wet surfaces.
CHOOSE YOUR WALKING SURFACE CAREFULLY
As you age, hard walking surfaces like the sidewalk or road can be harsher on your joints and muscles — especially if you have problems with your hips, knees, ankles or feet. Softer walking surfaces like smooth dirt trails or grass will be easier on your joints.
The treadmill is also an excellent choice that’s softer than walking on the road and offers a safe, controlled environment to exercise.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
An aching back, sore knees or a cold you can’t shake are all things you shouldn’t try to push through. During exercise and in the days that follow a workout, pay attention to your body for any changes that are out of the ordinary. Swollen feet could be a sign of a circulatory problem and difficulty breathing could mean you need to have your allergies and lungs tested for an underlying condition. Getting these things checked out early is key to maintaining your health and continuing a walking program safely.
BREAK UP YOUR WORKOUTS
In general, it is recommended that adults over the age of 65 complete a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. While 30 minutes of exercise a few times per week gets the job done, it’s OK to work your way up to a goal of 60 minutes per day.
This might seem daunting if you are out of shape or not used to a workout routine, but it’s actually easier than you think. Instead of going out every morning for a 60-minute walk, break it up into several different sessions throughout the day. A 20-minute walk in the morning, another in the afternoon, and third in the evening might be easier to manage than trying to get the entire workout done at once.
As with anything else, your personal safety should be your number 1 concern. It’s a good idea to carry a smartphone in case you need to call for help, wear visible clothing if you plan to walk at night and keep a watchful eye on the ground in front of you for potential hazards. And if you experience any pain while you’re exercising, it’s smart to stop and take a break.
Remember to set realistic goals when you begin and be honest with yourself when you have an injury. Increase your activity slowly and always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional if you have any concerns.