"Walking is the best medicine," Hippocrates stated more than two thousand years ago, and people have extolled its benefits ever since. It's a fun, low-intensity workout that's perfect for seniors. Here are a few reasons why older adults should strap on a pair of sneakers and head out the door:
It gets people active
Everyone knows they should work out, but there are tons of reasons why people don't hit the gym. Many seniors are intimidated by the intensity of national movements like Crossfit and SoulCycle. For some, just getting to the gym is an issue. Others simply don't have the mobility or the strength to sit on a stationary bike or try weightlifting. Thankfully, walking is an easy first step on the path to physical fitness. All you need is a comfortable outfit and a pair of walking shoes. What's more, you don't have to get it all done at once. Most experts recommend walking for 30 minutes each day, but that half hour can be spread into several chunks. You can walk for 10 minutes before breakfast, 10 more during lunch and finish your daily exercise after dinner.
It helps manage chronic diseases
It's long been known that exercise, even moderate and low-impact ones, help people manage conditions like diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. For instance, the Canadian Diabetes Association noted physical activity can be as powerful as medication for diabetics. The health organization recommended at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week to reduce blood pressure, help manage insulin and strengthen the heart.
It helps alleviate depression
Depression increases a person's risk of death and suicide, and it can exacerbate physical disabilities and cognitive decline. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, 3 to 5 percent of adults 65 and older struggle with major depression. Meanwhile, 15 percent experience depressive symptoms like low energy and trouble sleeping.
Thankfully, walking helps people manage this condition. One three-year study, originally published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, found women who walked 200 minutes per week felt fewer symptoms of depression. The participants said they were more social, energized and emotionally healthy.
Dr. Madhukar Trivedi of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas spoke with the Scientific American about the study and noted that consistent exercise was key for the women to see any benefits.
"That is not a new finding, but there remains skepticism in the culture that walking really does anything for depression or vitality - and this shows that it does," Dr. Trivedi told the publication.
"Walking increases the connections within your brain."
It helps you think
Walking does more than help you manage your emotions. It also strengthens your mind, increasing the connections within your brain. One study from the University of British Columbia found people who walked had better verbal and spacial memory. Another, conducted by the Radiological Society of North America, discovered walking slowed the progression of Alzheimer's. Participants were asked to walk five miles each week for 10 years, and researchers used MRIs to see how their brain changed in size over time.
"Volume is a vital sign for the brain," said Dr. Cyrus Raji, one of the researchers and a member of the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh. "When it decreases, that means brain cells are dying. But when it remains higher, brain health is being maintained."
Overall, researchers found walking five miles per week preserves the brain's volume and drastically reduced cognitive impairment.
Walking makes you feel good physically, mentally and emotionally. It's an easy, inexpensive form of exercise that can be done in a group or solo, depending on your mood.