Going for regular, brisk walks is one of the best and easiest things you can do for your health. While exercise is known to have mental and physical benefits, the over-65 age group is less active than any other. However, walking doesn't require any instruction or skill and poses little risk of injury. Here are nine benefits for seniors that will make you want to start a healthy habit of walking for 30 minutes a day.
Walking regularly can improve cardiac risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity can lower your blood pressure and prevent or delay the development of high blood pressure. Furthermore, Harvard Health reports that regular exercise helps maintain artery health, lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke.
It's complicated, but basically, exercise makes you breathe faster and more deeply, increasing your heart rate. This requires your capillaries (small blood vessels) to widen, pumping more oxygen-rich blood to muscles and carrying away waste products, like carbon dioxide and lactic acid.
According to the Mayo Clinic, as you get older, the amount of muscle tends to decrease and fat accounts for more of your weight, slowing down calorie burning. Regular aerobic exercise, like walking, is the most efficient way to burn calories. Mayo Clinic also states that walking briskly for half an hour a day can burn up to 150 calories daily.
Hitting the pavement regularly can protect you during cold and flu season. Exercise increases the circulation of your immune system warriors, like white blood cells. According to Harvard Health, "A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder."
The pain and discomfort of arthritis seem like a really good excuse for not exercising, but walking can actually reduce stiffness and inflammation. Walking reduces arthritis pain by lubricating knee and hip joints and strengthing the muscles surrounding those joints, which reduces the strain on them. A study published by Northwestern University in April 2019 found that just an hour a week of brisk walking staves off disability in older adults with arthritis pain, or aching or stiffness in a knee, hip, ankle or foot.
Exercise, like walking, stimulates the release of feel-good brain chemicals that play an important part in regulating your mood. Neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin act as "chemical messengers" that relieve pain and stress and boost your overall sense of well-being. Regular exercise also helps balance your body's level of stress hormones, such as adrenaline.
Additionally, focusing on your body's movements distracts you from upsetting thoughts. While setting and meeting exercise goals can boost your confidence. Walking outdoors exposes you to more Vitamin D from natural sunlight, which releases serotonin hormones and therefore boosts your mood.
In addition to lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke, walking and other moderate exercise programs also help protect against dementia, peripheral artery disease, obesity, depression, colon cancer, and even erectile dysfunction.
Exercise can reverse the effects of the aging process, people! Certainly, reducing your risk for disease promotes longevity. A study led by American Cancer Society researchers found that "even low levels of walking are linked with lower mortality, which means walking may help people live longer." According to the CDC, "Even those who are moderately active on a regular basis have lower mortality rates than those who are least active."
Sleep patterns change as we age. You might have a harder time falling asleep to begin with; you might wake up more often during the night, and/or rise earlier in the morning. Sleep.org claims, "As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can dramatically improve the quality of your nighttime sleep, especially when done on a regular basis. What's more, exercisers may reduce their risk for developing troublesome sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome."
Walking helps build lower-body strength, an important element of good balance. Good balance, in turn, helps prevent falls. Incorporate these balance exercises in your daily walk to improve equilibrium and coordination.
Talk to your doctor before you strap on your tennis shoes, especially if you have a history of heart disease.