There are many senior citizens who avoid exercising for fear of falling or worsening pre-existing health conditions, without realising that walking is a simple and effective form of exercise to add to one’s routine as it yields great results. Being a low-impact aerobic exercise, it doesn’t put excess pressure on one’s joints and muscles, and, in fact, strengthens them. There are numerous studies that show how walking can reduce pain caused by arthritis and lubricate joints to protect them.

  • Going beyond just physical benefits, walking regularly can also have an impact on one’s mental health and cognitive skills. A recent study carried out by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on people with mild cognitive difficulties aimed to determine whether ‘central arterial stiffness and brain hypoperfusion’ (risk factors of
    Alzheimer’s disease) could be improved by aerobic exercise. Since blood carries oxygen and vital nutrients throughout the body, including the brain, if there are any changes in the flow, it can disrupt cognitive activity. As one ages, this flow is not as strong as it once was due to the stiffening of arterial walls and other factors. But, this study shows that regular exercise could reduce ‘central arterial stiffness’ and increase ‘cerebral brain flow’ thereby leading to an improvement in those with memory problems. The WHO, too, touts the benefits of higher levels of physical activity, saying that it can improve the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, reduce risk of hypertension and ‘site-specific cancers’, and many more ailments.

There are numerous benefits to walking, and here we list just a few of them to encourage
you to begin.

  • Strengthen muscles and joints: Already discussed before, walking strengthens muscles, especially leg muscles, and can lubricate joints to decrease stiffness. When the muscles around one’s joints are strengthened, this will reduce the load on the joints that could be causing discomfort. Regular walking can also increase one’s range of motion, especially when supplemented with other stretching and strength
    training routines.
  • Strengthen bones: Walking is essentially a weight-bearing exercise, and this load forces one’s bones to work hard, alongside the muscles and joints. It can reduce the rate at which bone density declines, and research shows that it can even reduce the risk of hip fractures. Along with all of this, strengthening one’s bones, muscles and joints will lead to a better sense of balance, therefore reducing the risk of falls.
  • Mental health benefits: Walking can help one enhance their mental well-being as it reduces stress, improves sleep and mood, and can even boost one’s confidence levels. One can even add some mindfulness exercises to their walk such as intentionally noticing their surroundings, tuning into their senses, etc. This will help one to relax and truly reconnect with oneself. Exercising in general also encourages the brain to release endorphins, which improves one’s mood and helps one relax. It can also be a way to socialise with other people, which can help one’s mental health (it’s vital to respect social distancing norms when walking with other people).
  • Enhanced circulation and breathing: Any form of exercise will increase one’s heart rate, and walking—no matter at what pace—is no exception. This in turn can lower blood pressure and improve your heart health. Along with increasing the heart rate, walking will also encourage you to breathe more deeply, bringing more oxygen into the body.

Before one starts any exercise programme, it’s important to speak to a healthcare practitioner to prevent any kind of injury. For walking specifically, ensure that your loved one is using a walking aid—if they use one—that is the right size and that they are comfortable using one.

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