Seniors often develop a fear of falling. For some, it is the result of already having suffered a fall. For others, it is because an older adult close to them has been seriously injured during a fall. Whatever the reasons, it’s not an unfounded fear. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older adults.
According to the National Council on Aging, one in four adults over the age of 65 will experience a fall each year. That translates to a senior being treated in an emergency room for fall-related injuries every 11 seconds. An older adult might think they can lower their risk of falling by moving less and sticking closer to their favorite spot on the couch. But a sedentary lifestyle has just the opposite effect.
Inactivity leads to a decrease in muscle mass and core strength. That makes it more difficult to maintain balance, which puts the senior at increased risk for falls. One habit people can adopt to help them avoid frailty and falls is taking a daily walk. Research seems to indicate it can help seniors improve strength and balance.
Walk Your Way to a Lower Fall Risk
A research paper titled Effect of Structured Physical Activity on Prevention of Major Mobility Disability in Older Adults, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2014, reports the results of a clinical trial that explored how stretching and walking affect disability and the rate of falls. The two-year long study involved over 1,600 people between the ages of 70 and 89.
- Participants were sedentary seniors, but each was still able to independently walk one-quarter of a mile.
- Once enrolled, every participant attended monthly healthy aging education classes at the research center.
- In addition to the monthly classes, a subgroup of randomly chosen participants also met twice a week for stretching exercises and walking. They completed three more hours of exercise at home each week.
While there was no definitive conclusion, the results were promising. At the end of the trial, the subgroup participants were 18% less likely to have suffered any short-term physical disability and 28% less likely to have experienced a permanent disability.
When you add this information to the benefits of walking that are already known, such as weight management and a stronger immune system, it’s more obvious than ever that walking is a good way for seniors to stay fit.
How to Start Walking for Fitness
If you or a senior in your life wants to try walking for improved health, the first step should be to schedule an appointment with your family doctor. Getting their approval to begin this or any other type of exercise is important, especially if you’ve been sedentary for a while.
Another tip is to select a walking program that is a good fit for your lifestyle. It can help you stay safely on track with your fitness goal. Two to explore are:
- 12-Week Walking Program: You can ease into walking with the help of this 12-week program created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The program even includes warm-up and cool-down recommendations. Walkers can also target milestones that increase each week over the 3-month period.
- 6-Week Beginner Walking Plan: This free download from the American Heart Association is another great tool. It starts at just 10 minutes of walking and builds up to 30 minutes over 6 weeks.
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