Long ago, walking was one of the few forms of transportation available to humans. Modern times have brought new ways of getting around, leading many of us to be much less active than our ancestors (1). Older adults in Canada are more likely than any other age group to live a sedentary lifestyle (2). These days, nearly 70% of people aged 65 to 74 get around by car most of the time, while 5% use public transit. Even fewer – 3% – bike or walk as their primary mode of transportation (3).
Despite its waning popularity among older adults, walking has many positives. Here are four research-based examples of the health benefits of walking, with two additional tips on how to enhance how you engage in this activity. Click on the links for more information about recent research and study findings.
1. Improves heart health
In older adults who were previously inactive, walking for 20-60 minutes per day, 2-7 days per week can reduce some risk factors for heart disease – including body fat, blood pressure, body mass index, and body weight (4;5).
2. Benefits people with existing chronic conditions
Walking groups can also provide great opportunities to socialize and increase motivation to be more physically active (6). For older people with chronic conditions like arthritis, dementia, depression, and Parkinson’s disease, walking in groups can improve blood pressure, heart rate, body fat, fitness, walking speed, and reduce symptoms of depression (7).
3. Helps with stroke recovery
One to 6 months after a stroke, walking training (including musical feedback and treadmill training) can help to improve walking speed and distance more than traditional walking training. Six or more months after a stroke, any type of walking training helps improve walking ability, speed, and distance. Additionally, walking training may assist in improving people’s self-care abilities post-stroke (8).
4. Reduces pain and improves physical function
For people with chronic musculoskeletal pain, walking can improve pain for up to one year. In fact, walking provides more effective pain relief than other common interventions such as education, usual care, other exercise, relaxation, or massage. Walking can also improve overall physical function in chronic pain sufferers (9).
So, here are a few tips to incorporate walking into your everyday life!
1. Try Nordic walking
Nordic walking uses poles like those used in cross-country skiing. This style of walking may provide a better total body workout than regular walking because it incorporates the arms and upper body (10). It also increases cardiac fitness despite being perceived as less challenging (10), and burns more calories (11).
2. Put on some tunes
Music can also provide a great boost to your walking routine. Without thinking about it, you may find yourself stepping up the pace to keep up with the beat. Before you know it, you may be walking with greater speed, stride length, rhythm, and symmetry than ever before (12;13).
If you want to stay healthy and mobile well into old age, lace up those shoes and put one foot in front of the other. Walking is a great way to boost your health!