Fall is a great time for seniors to get back into a walking program.
As the summer heat and humidity fade away, the fall months can be a great time to begin or recharge a routine of walking. The changing leaves and brisk air can be invigorating. The “Back to School” season can give us a renewed commitment to routine and schedule. Any time we can use the calendar to motivate our self care is a good thing:)
A good walking program can provide multifaceted health benefits for seniors.
Walking can contribute to:
Improved cardiovascular health– Increasing speed, time, and elevation with walking can all contribute to improving your cardiovascular health.
Increased balance– Challenging yourself with a variety of surfaces, elevations, and walking patterns can improve your reactions and balance. Check out this post on active balance exercises.
Muscle strength– increased speed, increased time, and hills can contribute to improving your leg strength. Using arm weights or a weighted vest can also help improve arm and core fitness.
Upright posture– Keep your core tight and use good controlled posture and form with all movement to improve your alignment and trunk strength.
Improved mental health– When we exercise, our bodies release bodies release chemicals that actually reduce our stress and anxiety (endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) (Web MD 2021). Exercise also leads to increased circulation, which can improve our physical and cognitive status, as well as our energy level.
Decreased Pain– Research is revealing that exercise can actually decrease chronic pain! The chemicals your body releases with exercise contribute to reducing the sensitivity of your pain receptors. (Law and Sluka, 2018) Many people find the improved strength and posture from walking also contributes to alleviating their back pain.
Family Caregivers and Seniors: These are general ideas for a walking program. Consult and follow the guidelines of your own personal health care team, using assistance when needed for safety, and avoiding activities that cause pain. Always consult your health care professional before beginning any new exercise program. Please see the medical disclaimer.
Check out these 10 tips to challenge yourself with a healthy senior walking program:
1 For greatest impact, record your time or distance. Set a timer, count your steps, or measure the distance you walk. Mark it on an exercise log and challenge your self to increase slowly. If you can only walk a short duration, try performing it 2-3 times per day. Give yourself a goal for the month, and then celebrate if you come close! Use your written log to evaluate how you might improve. (affiliate link)
2 Likewise, measure your speed once a month. It may take time to see a change, but increasing your speed can improve your balance and decrease your risk of falling. Here is a link to help you assess your walking speed!
3 Have variety in your walking path. Find a few options that provide different surfaces and elevations (if it is safe for you). Challenging yourself with a variety of ground levels and surfaces can help you increase your balance and strength. Find a path with some elevation, add steps, ramps, or grassy surfaces (if you know they are free of holes). It’s great to have a routine, but make sure to change it up and challenge your body in a variety of ways.
4 Pay attention to your equipment. Check the tip of your cane, hiking stick, or bottom of your shoes for wear. Use supportive shoes, and protect your skin and eyes with a hat and sunglasses. If you use arm weights start small. Make sure they stay in place, and do not increase any hip or knee pain. A safer option may be a weighted vest, which is less likely to challenge your equilibrium while walking. A few years ago I experienced intense pain in the ball of my foot, only to realize that I had worn through my shoe! (affiliate link)
5 Keep your core tight and use good controlled alignment and form with all movement to improve your posture and trunk strength. Many people with chronic back pain find relief with a walking program. If you use a walker or cane, make sure it is correctly adjusted to encourage good posture.
6 Time your outdoor activity according to the weather. Check the forecast for storms (rain clouds may increase joint pain) and heat waves or intense cold can make it more difficult to breathe. Plan ahead for rest breaks if you’re out walking or hiking. Know where shade, a bench, or place to rest is located so you can have quick access if needed.
7 Pay attention to hydration: Hydrate with water through out the day, and have access to water during your activity. Check out this water bottle with measurements for hydration goals: (affiliate link)
8 Know the typical symptoms of overexertion: nausea, dizziness, pain, extreme fatigue. The heat can increase your susceptibility to overexertion. Gardening, hiking, and yard work in the heat without breaks can lead to serious illness if you are not careful. I had a patient in his 90’s who worked in his yard all day, to end up in the hospital very sick with rhabdomyolysis. (Sun Health Communities, 2021)
9 Importantly, be aware of your medications and their side effects. Low sodium diets and certain medications my leave you more susceptible to over heating by reducing you natural water loss through sweating. Likewise, pay attention to health issues (especially cardiac or kidney) that may put you at risk regarding exercise. Know and follow any restrictions to heart rate limit, or exertion, that your physician recommends. The heat can increase your heart rate and blood pressure.
10 Lastly, stay safe on your walking path. Choose a populated, well lit area. Take your cell phone, get a walking partner, and be familiar your path. If something happens you may need access to help. Be cautious if you are listening to music. I watched an elderly gentleman almost get hit by a car recently. He walked out into the road, not hearing the oncoming traffic because of headphones. I was behind him and couldn’t get his attention. When my mother was becoming forgetful we bought her a medical alert bracelet, which kept her safe a few times.
If you want to help yourself or clients track water intake, log activities, follow instructions and achieve improved outcomes, check out senior care printable packets on the blog!
Handouts also available in small packets on Etsy!
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I would love to hear what you think! What other tips do you have for a well rounded walking program? Subscribe to my blog for a FREE packet of health organization printables, occasional tips and freebies!