BENEFITS OF WALKING
Walking the most basic of exercises just requires some comfortable clothes and a good pair of shoes. You don’t
need a trainer, a gym, or an expensive machine—just your neighborhood or a park and path will do. You can even take
your dog. And walking is one of the best exercises to benefit your overall health, particularly as we age.
What does walking do for your body and mind?
Promotes a healthy weight
Helps reduce blood pressure
Strengthen bones and helps prevent osteoporosis
Promotes joint health
Lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, and diabetes
Improves balance and coordination—important for preventing falls
Strengthens the immune system
Raises your energy levels
Reduces anxiety and depression
Makes you feel good about yourself
These benefits enable you to live independently and safely in your home. Studies have shown that it may also
slow cognitive decline and dementia.
Another bonus to walking is the people you meet while out on your walk, as you talk to friends and neighbors. And
social interaction is another key to good health. According to Harvard Health Publishing: “A strong social life has been
linked with many health benefits, like less risk of depression and longer lifespan.”
Preparing to Walk
If you are starting a walking program, please consult your physician first. If he or she has any concerns about your
walking for exercise, ask if there are some alternative activities you can perform. Although walking has many benefits for
seniors, precautions must be taken to ensure that is the case for you.
Start slow, especially if you haven’t exercised for a while. Walk for 10 minutes, and see if you can gradually walk
up to 30 minutes per day, five days a week. The pace doesn’t have to be strenuous. The benefits of walking can be had at
a moderate-intensity exercise level. That level of exercise is defined in various ways. The simplest explanation is that
moderate-level activity means you can still talk but not sing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides
more information on exercise intensity levels.
Let’s consider your technique
The faster, farther, and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits. For example, you may start out as an
average walker, and then work your way up to walking faster and walking a mile in a shorter amount of time than an
average walker, similar to power walkers. This can be a great way to get aerobic activity, improve your heart health and
increase your endurance while burning calories.
You can also alternate periods of brisk walking with leisurely walking. This type of interval training has many
benefits, such as improving cardiovascular fitness and burning more calories than regular walking. And interval training
can be done in less time than regular walking
Turning your normal walk into a fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements. Ideally, here's how you'll
look when you’re walking:
Your head is up. You’re looking forward, not at the ground.
Your neck, shoulders, and back are relaxed, not stiffly upright.
You’re swinging your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows. A little pumping with your arms is OK.
Your stomach muscles are slightly tightened and your back is straight, not arched forward or backward.
You’re walking smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.
Plan your routine
As you start your walking routine, remember to:
- Get the right gear. Choose shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel, and thick flexible soles to cushion
your feet and absorb shock.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and gear appropriate for all types of weather, such as layers in cooler
weather. Aim to wear moisture-wicking fabrics, which will keep you more comfortable. If you walk outdoors
when it's dark, wear bright colors or reflective tape for visibility. Wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses if
you're going out during the day.
- Some people choose to use an activity tracker, app or pedometer. These can be helpful to track your time,
distance, heart rate and calories.
- Choose your course carefully. If you'll be walking outdoors, avoid paths with cracked sidewalks, potholes,
low-hanging limbs or uneven turf.
If the weather isn't appropriate for walking, consider walking in a shopping mall that offers open times for
- Warm up. Walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for exercise.
- Cool down. At the end of your walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to help your muscles cool down.
- Stretch. After you cool down, gently stretch your muscles. If you'd rather stretch before you walk, remember
to warm up first.
Set realistic goals
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines:
Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic
activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread
out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health
benefits. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time
throughout the day can add up to provide health benefits.
Strength training. Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim
to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after
about 12 to 15 repetitions.
As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you can't set aside that much time, try several
short sessions of activity throughout the day. Any amount of activity is better than none at all. Even small amounts of
physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide health benefits.
Remember it’s OK to start slowly — especially if you haven’t been exercising regularly. You might start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes. For even more health benefits, aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
Track your progress
Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes can help you see where you
started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Just think how good you’ll feel when you see how many miles you’ve
walked each week, month, or year.
Try using an activity tracker, app, or pedometer to calculate steps and distance. Or record these numbers in a walking
Starting a walking program takes initiative. Sticking with it takes commitment. To stay motivated:
Set yourself up for success. Start with a simple goal, such as, I’ll take a 5- or 10-minute walk during my
lunch break. When your 5- or 10-minute walk becomes a habit, set a new goal, such as, “I’ll walk for 20
minutes after work."”
Find specific times for walks. Soon you could be reaching for goals that once seemed impossible.
Make walking enjoyable. If you don't like walking alone, ask a friend or neighbor to join you. If you’re re-energized by groups, join a health club or walking group. You might like listening to music while you walk.
Vary your routine. If you walk outdoors, plan several different routes for variety. If you often walk in your
neighborhood, consider walking somewhere new, such as a city or state park. Try taking routes with hills or
stairs as you become used to walking more. Or walk faster for a few minutes and then slow down for a few
minutes and repeat the cycle. If you’re walking alone, tell someone which route you're taking. Walk in safe,
Take missed days in stride. If you find yourself skipping your daily walks, don't give up. Remind yourself
how good you feel when you include physical activity in your daily routine, and then get back on track.
Once you take that first step, you’re on the way to an important destination — better health.
If after starting your walking program you develop symptoms like the following, contact your doctor as soon as possible:
Shortness of breath
Unexplained weight loss
Sores that won’t heal
Starting a new exercise may create some muscle soreness, but persistent pain anywhere in your body can be a warning
sign. If you develop problems with your feet, talk to your doctor or a podiatrist.
Also if you use a cane or walker, that doesn’t mean you can’t walk. Use them to help you with your balance and take
some of the load off your joints.