Lifestyle

Mary Andrews column: seniors benefit from walking

By Mary Andrews

What a delight the recent cooler weather has been. It is great to get outside now to enjoy the sunny days. In fact, getting outside is one of the reasons I am writing this article.

It is time to dust off your tennis shoes and walking shoes and get out walking. Walking is one of the best things you can do for yourself, really.

Some of us seniors get to a certain point in our lives when we feel “victimized” by our bodies and we do not want to exercise. Life seems to get harder and harder for us and we make excuses like, “I have a bad back,” “My knees hurt,” “My foot is sore,” “I’m always tired” or “I have a breathing problem.”

My back, feet and knees all hurt, too, and I have asthma. But I have a choice. I can sit in my recliner and rot from the inside out making all my problems worse, or I can get up off my bum and walk, stretch, garden and just move.

Why would anyone want to walk? Let me dazzle you with just a few good reasons:

• First of all, it is free. Whether walking on the Foothills Trail, in your driveway, on your sidewalk, in a city park, at a school or around the inside of your air-conditioned grocery store.

• You will feel better;

• It will help prevent high blood pressure;

• It will help people with moderately high blood pressure keep it under control;

• It will lower your risk of developing Type II diabetes, as exercise improves your cells’ sensitivity to and use of insulin;

• It will make your bones stronger and more dense, thereby lowering your risk of developing osteoporosis and its accompanying risk of hip, vertebrae and wrist fractures;

• Your arthritis complaints will lessen;

• Stress will be easier to manage;

• It will raise your HDL – the good kind of cholesterol;

• You will have more energy and fun when you go out; and

• It will lower your risk of heart disease.

In fact, in a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine, a long-term study of 72,000 women ages up to 65 who walked for three hours per week, showed thy reduced their risk of heart attack by 30 to 40 percent. Another reported fact was that women who had lived mostly sedentary lives reaped real benefits when they started walking.

“Even walking one hour per week helped these women lower their risk of heart attack,” the study reported. This applied to older women, too.

A team of researchers headed by Dr. Edward W. Gregg of the Center For Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta followed 7,500 women aged 65 and older for 12 ½ years. He monitored how much and what kind of exercise they did – walking, dancing, swimming, gardening or aerobics.

He found those “who began to exercise at age 65 have a 36 percent lower risk of heart disease and 51 percent lower risk of cancer than those who are sedentary. Modest increase in physical activity could have wide ranging benefits ranging from lessened risk factors to reduced disability.”

Also, “women 75 years and older did lower their risk of death when they went from sedentary to an active lifestyle.”

What this all means is, if you get up and move, you will be healthier and have a better chance of living a richer, more satisfying life than if you stay in your chair or on your sofa most of the day and evening.

How much time do you need to spend exercising, let’s say by walking, to get healthier? Try walking just five to 10 minutes every day or every other day at first. After a week or so, add a few more minutes. Walk where ever you feel safe or in some of the places I recommended earlier in the article.

If you read my article last spring following surgery, walking was one of my rehabilitation programs. Before then I had no idea how difficult just a five-minute walk could be. I know a lot of you feel it will be too difficult. It will be hard the first few times, but, as you get stronger, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish. So start slowly and be patient with yourself.

Do what you can do and do not waste time complaining about what you cannot do. As the old Nike commercial said, “Just Do It!”

If I told you that eating two slices of chocolate cake would help your heart be healthier, you would do it in a second. Instead I am telling you to walk a bit and you will feel better and make your heart healthier. Expect to be tired, but stick with it as it is well worth the effort.

Seniors, let’s step out and walk.

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