Surprising benefits of walking

By John Gayman, MD

Walking is a great way for older adults to improve fitness and stay in shape. It can potentially decrease the risk of diabetes and heart disease, improve diabetic control in those who have diabetes, and help with depression and anxiety. And being physically fit helps maintain muscle mass and independence, and is associated with longevity.

To set safe goals, talk with your doctor before beginning a program, especially if you have any chronic conditions. Then, put on walking or running shoes with good support, warm up with a few stretches, and go.

Tips for starting a walking routine

1. Relax

When you walk, relax your body and let your arms swing naturally as you find your stride.At first you may get winded going only a short distance. That’s okay. Do what you can, and increase your distance in increments of as little as 10 minutes until you reach your goal.

2. Commit to a schedule

Join a gym, or your local YMCA to have an indoor space to walk when it’s rainy outside. Treadmills offer TV or music ports and you can set the speed and the incline. Don’t hold on to the handrails. Your arms should swing naturally at your side—plus it’s good for your balance.

3. Walk with purpose

To help maintain a steady program, commit to walking with a buddy, leash up your dog, or join a walking group. Or connect walking with a destination in mind, such as regularly walking to the grocery store, exercise class, library, or around the neighborhood.

4. Have fun

The point here is to have fun by making it easy on yourself. If you feel a bit unsure on your feet, use a walking stick for better balance. If you feel unsafe walking alone or are concerned for your health, take your cell phone or consider walking in a mall or park.