Keeping physically fit and agile should be the first motto of a senior citizen. This is important as a healthy mind can thrive only on a robust body. To keep physically strong, various types of exercises have been prescribed for elderly. These include water aerobics, stretching exercises, yoga, pilates, swimming, body weight / band resistance workouts, amidst others. While all these are good to keep the body fit, some of them may be strenuous and others may require guidance or a specified place. Further, some of these movements might be counter-productive beyond certain age say, 70 years or some specific categories of elders. Therefore, there has always been a search for universally accepted mode of exercise for all ages at all times.
Walking as a Universal Exercise:
Under the above backdrop, walking has often been prescribed for all senior citizens as an alternate to many other exhausting exercises. Research shows that walking on consistent basis has been able to control diseases like blood pressure & other heart ailments, obesity, diabetes, certain types of cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and even dementia. People who are in the habit of constant walking have less tendency to fall, a most dreaded case of disaster for many seniors. Walking in a serene climate often relaxes mind and brings peace to soul. It also helps in controlling depression.
Therefore, considering the benefits, walking has often been commended as an alternate means of exercise to keep both body and mind fit and agile.
Some Principles of Walking:
Brisk walking: The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity brisk walking in a week. Assuming 5 days in a week, it translates into 30 minutes of brisk walk every day. Brisk walking is classically defined as 100 steps in a minute. This means 30 minutes of brisk walk will cover around 3,000 steps of walk. It can be a continuous 30 minutes of walk at a stretch or may be divided in phases over the day.
It may, however, not be possible for many seniors to do brisk walking at pace mentioned above and that too for 30 minutes at a stretch. While an elderly person can try to attempt brisk walking if health permits, he / she should definitely endeavour to walk as much as possible on a daily basis. The essence of speed may be kept in mind.
Achieving 10,000 (ten thousand steps a day): This is the other classical formula of walking and linking it to physical and mental benefit. Studies have shown that 10,000 steps per day are perfect and denote magical number that is linked to an ideal physical and mental condition.
It may be difficult to achieve target of 10,000 steps a day particularly for an elderly person. Idea is to set a benchmark and see that we walk as much as possible. Many of the tasks can be done through or preceded / succeeded by walking. Some pointers in this regard include:
a. We can make it a habit of taking a brisk walk of at least of 15 to 30 minutes a day. That will cover around 1,500 to 3,000 steps.
b. If our place of stay is at 1st or 2nd floor, we can walk up rather than taking an elevator.
c. We can try to walk while seeing the TV news / serials.
d. We should make it habit of walking ourselves to fetch tea / coffee from kitchen rather than asking someone to get it.
e. We should always stand and walk a bit after 20 to 30 minutes of working in seating position.
f. It is always better to take a stroll after lunch or dinner as it also helps in digestion.
g. We should make conscious efforts to walk as much as possible.
h. Walking in groups is always preferred as it helps to keep up the mood while walking. Senior should try to be members of walking clubs.
Balancing act: Overdoing anything should be avoided. While walking is encouraged and is good for health as well as mind, we should do walking only as far as the body allows. The other extreme is also important. We often see many elderly people slowly reducing walking, taking too much of rest / sleep and then “not walking” becomes a habit with them. That leads to health issues and they slowly get bed ridden. What is suggested is that one should walk as much as possible and feasible within boundaries of one’s ability, keeping the principle of 10,000 steps in mind. But one must not overdo as that may be counter-productive. Stretching beyond limits meaning walking too far or too fast may not be good for elderly people. Each individual is different and he / she has to decide how much to walk every day and at what speed.
We suggest that elderly people who cannot go outside, should walk within the confines of room as much as possible. People who are accustomed to walking with aid like walking stick / walker, should stroll with these instruments. Idea is that absence of walking might lead to fast deterioration of body organs.
Walking is a low cast, equipment free but high calorie burning exercise. As elders, walking should be regarded as “must exercise” as other aerobics might need specialized place or equipment or guidance. Other than walking at brisk pace during the strolling time, we should also make movement as a part of daily routine so that it is ingrained in our mind. Walking should be made a habit; it is a bless and ideal for a long and healthy life. Let us walk as much as we can without overdoing it.
Dr A K Sen Gupta, Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9821128103.
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