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Low-Intensity Walking Yields a Range of Health Benefits

By Lisa M. Davila, B.S.N., M.S.
September 26, 2023
friends walking outside

For older adults, current exercise recommendations include 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity endurance exercises (or 75 minutes a week of high-intensity endurance exercises), plus muscle-strengthening exercises for all major muscle groups two days a week. 

"Older adults should also do exercises that help improve flexibility and balance," says Myla Carpenter, M.D., medical director at Charlestown, an Erickson Senior Living community in Catonsville, Md. 

The combination of these exercises has been shown to help manage and prevent certain diseases (especially heart disease), reduce falls, improve sleep, boost mood, increase strength and energy, and even improve or maintain cognitive functioning.

However, only 25% of older adults get the recommended amount of exercise, according to the National Health Interview Survey.

"But you shouldn't feel discouraged if you can't meet these guidelines," Carpenter says. "Instead, give yourself credit for any physical activity you can do!"

In fact, a growing body of research shows that light-intensity activities--like dusting the furniture or going for a walk--can yield health benefits, too, if you do them regularly.

Step by step

A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology showed that walking at least 2,337 steps a day was associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and 3,967 steps a day may significantly reduce the risk of death from any cause. 

The researchers came up with those thresholds by examining the results of 17 different studies from across the globe. Their analysis also showed that getting in more steps meant better health for everyone, regardless of age or where they lived.

"Knowing that just a little exercise can improve your health is not enough to motivate some people, though. Taking that first step can be the hardest part!" Carpenter says. "But there are a few ways to make it easier."

Make it convenient

Believe it or not, exercise can be incorporated into your daily routine. Instead of walking your trash cans to the curb and heading straight inside, take a lap around the cul-de-sac. 

Many Erickson Senior Living residents enjoy strolling through the climate-controlled walkways to get the mail or visit neighbors, making it easy to get their steps in.

"Be realistic about what you can do and when," Carpenter notes. "Try fitting small chunks of activity--like a 10-minute walk--into your schedule, just like any other appointment."

Find creative ways to fit some extra movement into your everyday routine, too. Do some stretching while watching the morning news or park a little farther from the entrance of the grocery store. 

Make it safe

"But remember to start slowly with any program," Carpenter says. "If you have health conditions that tend to limit your ability to exercise, ask your doctor for ideas that would work best for you."

Water-based exercises, for example, can be a good option for people with arthritis or limited movement.

Whenever you exercise, wear comfortable clothing that's appropriate for the weather and the right shoes for the activity. Stay hydrated and always be aware of your surroundings!

Make it count

Studies show that keeping track of your progress--no matter how small--and rewarding yourself is one of the best ways to stay motivated. 

Wear a pedometer to see how many steps you actually take during the day, and challenge yourself to slowly increase that number. Each time you hit a personal best, whether with steps or weights, write it down and reward yourself. Buy a new book, get a massage, see the latest exhibit at the museum, or have an extra dessert (once in a while)!

"Also, you're more likely to get up and moving if another person is counting on you," Carpenter says. "Having an exercise buddy or being part of a group makes exercise much more enjoyable."

Find an Erickson Senior Living community near you to learn more about the amenities and services available to improve health and well-being.