Whether a physical fitness enthusiast or someone who prefers a less active lifestyle, it is important to make sure to keep moving and exercise your body in some way on a regular basis… especially as you hit the “seasoned times” of life. According to the National Institute on Aging, regular aerobic activity provides many welcome health benefits as we age and can be key to healthy, independent living.
The really good news for even the least sports-minded people among us is that moving and exercising the body does not have to mean putting it through a long, vigorous workout. Just taking a short walk every day is a great low impact, low-exertion form of physical activity that builds strength, energy, and stamina and can fit into almost anyone’s lifestyle.
Walking is a practical, convenient and pleasant way to keep the body moving. You can go for a walk whenever you want to, and you can walk at your own pace. As you walk, you can enjoy some fresh air and interesting scenery. You can listen to music or an audio book. You can turn walking into a social event by taking a walk with a friend or a group of people.
As with any new fitness program, you will want to check in with your doctor before incorporating a regular schedule of walking into your life. Your doctor will be able to help you create a walking program appropriate to your health status and abilities. He or she will probably have helpful suggestions for you, such as the right kind of shoes to wear, local areas best suited for walking, or organized walking clubs based in the community.
Beginning a walking program can take a little getting used to… especially if you haven’t exercised regularly in a while. But, walking usually becomes easier and more fun as you continue to do it on a consistent basis. Walking may cause some minor discomfort in your muscles and joints at first, but any discomfort should pass once you have been walking regularly for a while. Let your doctor know if you experience significant pain and/or discomfort that does not ease up. There could be an underlying cause that may require medical attention.
The most important thing about beginning or continuing any exercise program is to execute it wisely and safely. Here are some helpful tips about walking as a regular form of exercise.
Do whatever you can to make walking a joy rather than a chore. The more you enjoy the experience of walking, the more you will want to partake. There are so many different ways to incorporate some fun into walking. You can birdwatch, count the blue houses along your route, listen to interesting audiobooks or music you love, chat with fellow walkers, think about treasured memories from the past, or make plans for creating future memories, etc.
Walking does not have to be a large scale or elaborate event. Think about all the places and things you do that involve walking. Next time you go to the mall or visit a museum, spend a little extra time walking around the facility. Next time you take a bus or subway, get off at the stop before your destination and walk the last leg of your journey. If you are visiting a friend or loved one who lives nearby, walk over instead of driving.
It is always a good idea to know where you are going when you head out for a walk. Walking along a familiar route is also a good idea, because getting lost is no fun at any age. Walking on a flat, firm surface is best if you are a beginner or have some physical limitations. The terrain should fit your age and fitness level. Mixing up your routes can help keep you from getting bored, while giving you different things to observe and experience as you walk.
Tailor your walking program to your own personal health status and abilities. Don’t start out with overly ambitious expectations for yourself. Begin slowly. Be reasonable and cautious as you slowly increase your energy output and the length of time you walk. Many resources recommend walking at least 30 minutes a day, but that does not mean you have to walk 30 minutes at a stretch right off the bat. You can walk for 10 minutes three times a day. Then, if you want to, you can gradually build up to a single 30-minute walk.
Warming up before heading out on a walk is important because it prepares your muscles, joints, and the rest of your body for the walk. Stretch and move around a bit. Some light exercise before walking loosens up your body, which helps with balance and flexibility. It can help prevent injury. It also protects your heart, because it slowly elevates your heart rate. Warming up can actually make walking feel easier and less taxing. Cooling down after a walk – instead of stopping abruptly – is important because it allows your heart rate to slow down gradually, which can prevent dizziness and even fainting. You can cool down by continuing to walk while slowing down your pace. Ask your doctor to suggest a warm up and cool down routine well suited to your health, physical condition, and abilities.
If you are walking along streets, try to keep to those that have sidewalks. If there are no sidewalks in places along your route, try to stay on a smooth, stable surface and walk facing oncoming traffic so you and drivers can see each other. When crossing a street, be diligent about stopping to look for traffic coming from both directions. It can be difficult for many of us in our “seasoned” years to turn just our necks and shoulders so it is always a good idea toturn your whole body when looking for traffic. Always look both ways… even if you are at a crossing signal that tells you it is safe to cross. In addition, do not expect that cars will definitely stop when you are crossing within a designated pedestrian crosswalk. Before crossing, wait for a substantial opening in traffic that gives you more than enough time to cross safely and/or wait for drivers to stop and obviously acknowledge that they see you
Take some time to organize before heading out on a walk. Check the local weather forecast so you know what to expect. Wearloose, comfortable clothing and dress in layers so you can add or remove pieces as needed. Make sure your footwear is right for walking. Wear a pair ofproperly fitted, sturdy walking shoes that offer enough support. Bring along water to make sure you stay well-hydrated throughout your walk. If you are walking during the day, make sure to protect yourself from the sun by usingplenty of sunscreen and wearing a hat as well as sunglasses. If you are walking in the evening, make sure you are visible to drivers by wearing clothing or accessories with reflective materials. Carry a flashlight to make yourself more visible and so you can clearly see the area and any potential dangers.