Exercise has a plethora of benefits for mind, body and spirit. If you’ve recently been encouraged to introduce more fitness into your life, perhaps to improve your heart health, there’s no need to panic about having to launch an intense new routine. Walking is actually an excellent form of exercise.
Due to the many health benefits of walking -- including promoting heart health, improving balance and boosting mental health -- it’s no wonder that walking is considered one of the best exercises for older adults, especially for those who may not feel comfortable doing more rigorous exercises like lifting weights. But could the speed at which you walk really make that much of a difference when it comes to reducing your heart disease risk?
According to a recent study, the answer to that question is a resounding yes! In fact, brisk walking might just be the simplest and most effective way to lower your risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.
The Link Between Brisk Walking and a Lower Heart Disease Risk
To determine if there were any heart-specific benefits to brisk walking, researchers used data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, which involved 4,207 men and women over the age of 65. By analyzing the results of annual physical exams, researchers were able to assess each participant's’ average walking pace and distance walked, along with whether or not they experienced any coronary emergencies, like a heart attack or stroke.
After looking at data that was collected over the course of 10 years, researchers found that the participants who walked faster than three miles per hour cut their heart disease risk in half. But that’s not all. When compared to those who walked less than five blocks a week, the participants who walked an average of seven blocks a day had a 47 percent lower heart disease risk.
Although this study mainly focused on how brisk walking has a major impact on overall heart health, the researchers also noted that brisk walking is certainly not the only exercise that will lower the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Other effective exercises for older adults mentioned by the researchers included hiking, swimming, biking and gardening.
What To Do Before You Start Brisk Walking
Walking may be one of the safer exercises for older adults, but it’s still important that you do everything you can to ensure your safety while exercising. These preventative steps may seem tedious or unnecessary, but they will go a long way in helping you avoid an injury or accident while you’re brisk walking:
- Speak with your doctor. You should always speak with your doctor before beginning a new fitness routine -- even one that involves a simple exercise like walking. Your doctor will help you determine if you should use a walking cane for safety and address any other limitations or concerns you may have.
- Find a pair of good walking shoes. Walking luckily doesn’t require any equipment except for a pair of supportive shoes that will help you stay on your feet longer. To find the best walking shoes for seniors, visit a specialty running store, and always opt for comfort and support over style and bargains.
- Enlist a buddy. Ask a family member, friend or neighbor if they’d like to walk with you a few times a week. Not only will this motivate you to adhere to your exercise routine, but it will also add a social component to your workout. If you’d prefer to exercise by yourself, listen to some energetic music to help you maintain a brisk walking pace.
- Don’t forget to stretch! One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not stretching before exercising. Stretching helps loosen your joints, which will make brisk walking much easier. Do some light stretches and start walking at a more leisurely pace for a few minutes to get your heart rate up before you really start to pick up the speed. Stretching after you exercise can also help to prevent muscle cramping, and help you remain limber.
- Ensure your safety on-the-go. Regardless of your speed, walking is one of the greatest tripping hazards for seniors, especially if you come across uneven ground or cracked pavement. Ensure your safety with our Mobile Guardian medical alert system so you can receive help anywhere you are. Our round-the-clock emergency operators will be able to pinpoint your exact location and send help directly to you -- whether you’re simply relaxing at home or walking around the neighborhood.