Use it or lose it is likely a familiar phrase. It refers to the continuous practice of a desired activity or facing the risk of losing the ability altogether.
This is particularly relevant to the subject of walking as a means of helping seniors preserve their independence and enhance their well-being.
Walking is an important form of exercise for older adults, including those who use a cane or walker for assistance. Walking helps maintain mobility and offers potential benefits for blood circulation and heart health, joint diseases, bone density, balance, and mental acuity.
Top 10 Walking Safety Tips for Seniors
There are a few things you should keep in mind to realize all the advantages that walking can offer. Before getting started, be sure to consult with your primary care provider first.
Here are tips to consider for general safety and comfort:
1. Warm up and cool down.
Regardless of how fast you intend to walk, begin each walk at a casual pace to get the blood flowing to your muscles and joints. End the walk by gradually slowing your pace over a few minutes.
2. Think carefully about intended routes.
Plan ahead. Consider the terrain you’ll encounter on your walk — will it be in a rural or urban setting? Try to minimize encounters with broken pavement, construction hazards, congested sidewalks, and busy intersections. You may also wish to avoid steep inclines.
3. Wear brightly colored clothing.
Wear bright, loose-fitting clothes that are appropriate for an extended walk. Consider dressing in layers, which is a tactic that can be useful when weather conditions are variable. It’s also helpful to wear reflective material on your clothing to ensure everyone can see you.
4. Choose appropriate footwear.
Select walking shoes with good arch support and non-skid soles. Talk to your primary care provider if you have foot problems that may require orthopedic shoes.
5. Air quality counts.
Be alert to weather advisories about poor air quality, especially if you have asthma or other breathing disorders. Consider postponing or shortening walks on days with high air pollution.
6. Don’t forget water.
Staying hydrated is always essential, especially in warmer weather, when you’re likely to sweat more. Bring water or other low-calorie liquids with you on walks.
7. Use a cane or a walker.
Don’t let the need for a walking aid prevent you from hitting the trail (providing that your doctor agrees). Make sure you follow an appropriate distance and go at a comfortable pace. Ensure your cane or walker is the right height to maximize safety and comfort, and consider using one that includes a seat so you can rest along the way.
8. Remain aware of your surroundings.
It’s common to chat or listen to music when walking with a companion. While that can make walking more enjoyable, continue to remain aware of potential hazards, such as potholes, patches of ice, traffic, or uneven terrain. Be especially alert when stepping off a curb, where a misstep can result in a sprained or broken ankle.
9. Bring your cell phone.
Take a cell phone with you in case of an emergency or if you need to contact someone to give you a ride back home.
10. Pace yourself.
It’s important to pace yourself when walking outdoors. If you encounter pain or severe discomfort, stop and rest. If it persists, notify your primary care provider.
Many seniors make their exercise routine a social occasion by joining walking clubs sponsored by community senior centers. If you’d like to start your own walking club, this American Heart Association resource can help you create a successful program.
Benefits of Walking for Seniors
Walking is an accessible, low-impact form of exercise that offers numerous benefits that include:
- Improves sleep
- Supports your joints
- Strengthens muscles
- Helps you lose weight
- Boosts your mood
- Slows mental decline
- Prolongs independence
- Lowers risk of dementia
- Reduces the risk of fractures
- Lowers blood pressure
These combined benefits offer a better quality of life for older adults.