As you get older, your body changes. Here are some of the reasons why your approach to walking should change as well.
When a healthy young adult goes for a brisk walk, the locomotive power in their lower body is evenly distributed across their main joints, according to physical therapist Damien Powell, PT: the hip joint supplies 33% of the power, the knee 33% of the power, and the ankle the exact same amount. But what about an elderly person walking at the same pace? They will almost certainly experience a “redistribution” of those powers, owing to Achilles tendon issues and the fact that older people, by the time they reach their late 60s and beyond, have lost a significant amount of muscle mass in their legs.
“Rough estimates show that the hip joint provides approximately 74 percent [of the power] in the elderly, the knee 13 percent, and the ankle 12 percent,” he says.
In other words, if you walk for exercise in your senior years, you may be unaware that your body reacts differently when you walk. As a result, you’ll find yourself walking at slower speeds, with an inefficient gait, and possibly with less-than-ideal posture. The kinetic chain is broken, and your walk becomes less coordinated as a result. When you add in issues like osteoarthritis, the pain you feel while walking becomes exaggerated.
This is why, as you get older, walking experts will advise you to approach your exercise walks differently than you did when you were younger—for your safety, mobility, exercise quality, and even adding years to your life. You may even discover that you require some specific exercises to help you become a better and more efficient walker.
With this in mind, we dug into the latest research and spoke with some of the most knowledgeable people to compile a short list of the things that older walkers should avoid doing while walking for exercise. Continue reading to find out what they are. And if you enjoy walking, you should be aware of The Secret Cult Walking Shoe That Walkers All Over The World Are Completely Obsessed With.
1. You’re not doing enough stretching and exercises.
As Powell mentioned, your body will begin to walk differently as a result of physiological changes caused by aging. There are exercises you can do to help compensate for these changes, making you a better and more efficient walker.
There are “impairment-based interventions” that are scientifically proven to help older people walk better, according to a study published in the journal Current Translational Geriatrics and Experimental Gerontology Reports. Resistance exercises, such as repeated chair stands, are included, as is increased stretching of the dorsi-flexors (basically your ankle) for improved range of motion; aerobic conditioning exercises, such as riding a stationary bike, and “progressive ambulation training.” The study suggests “repeated practice of push-offs or weight-shifting of the center of mass” for the latter. (In other words, you should practice balance exercises like standing on one leg.)
Everyone who walks for exercise should stretch their quads, warm up their backs, perform hip stretches, loosen their hamstrings, and stretch out their feet, according to Lisa Herrington, an ASCM certified trainer and founder of FIT House Davis. This is especially true for the elderly, she claims. Also, don’t miss The Walking Workouts That Will Help You Get Lean, Says Top Trainer for some workouts you can try.
2. You Aren’t Strolling to Music
Walking speed is one of many predictors of premature death, according to research. Assuming you’re physically capable, research suggests that older walkers may benefit from listening to music. A study published in the Journal of Physiotherapy found that stroke survivors who walked to music had much faster walking speeds, longer strides, and better “cadence and symmetry.” More great exercise advice can be found here: The One Secret Exercise Trick That’s So Simple You Won’t Believe It Works.
3. You’re Using Incorrect Form
Walking comes naturally to us as bipedal mammals, but that doesn’t mean we’re all doing it optimally, which is especially true for seniors. When walking, keep your head in the proper position. “Think of your neck as part of your spine as a whole rather than as a separate entity and try to increase the space between your vertebrae, expanding it like the bellows of an accordion,” Bristol Nordic Walking experts advise. To do so, imagine lengthening your spine “all the way up into your head.” Maintain a level chin to the ground. If you must look down, only turn your eyes down, not your entire head.
You should land with your feet rolling rather than smacking the ground. “To be a better walker, your heel should strike the ground first, then roll to the ball, and finally push off the big toe,” says Joe Vega, C.S.C.S., founder of The Vega Method.
Maintain a back and down posture with your shoulders. “Your shoulders will be alternating pushing and pulling motions, creating momentum for you to move forward,” Vega explains. To get the most out of your walk, keep your shoulders relaxed, pulled back, and down. To ensure you’re keeping them there, engage in routine “shoulder shrugs“—before your walk to loosen up and during your walk when you feel your posture starting to break down.
You should use your arms correctly, which means bending them at the elbows and taking shorter, quicker steps to avoid overstriding. “Shorter, faster steps are the key to going faster,” Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, and Michele Stanten write in their book Walk Your Butt Off!
4. You’re Not Taking Safety Precautions When You Go Out
It’s simply a fact that as you get older, you become more prone to falls and injuries. “It’s critical that seniors walk with a charged cell phone,” says Jeanette DePatie, CPT, author of The Fat Chick Works Out! and founder of Everybody Can Exercise. “Seniors with hearing or vision impairments should also avoid walking at night and crossing very busy intersections if at all possible.”
She recommends that you wear an ID bracelet with your medical conditions and contact information on it. “Weather can be an issue,” she adds. “Remember that exercising in the heat is much more difficult, and seniors are sometimes more prone to overheating, syncope, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. When it’s extremely hot, you might want to consider taking your walk somewhere air-conditioned, such as a museum or a mall.”
5. You’re wearing shoes that are overly flexible.
Walking experts will tell you that you should get your walking shoes fitted in the same place that runners get theirs—at a store where you can test them out on a treadmill for comfort and support. However, if you’re getting older and may be suffering from the effects of osteoarthritis, also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation, which affects approximately 28 million people in the United States ,it’s a good idea to get a shoe with more support.
A new study published this year in the Annals of Internal Medicine sought to determine which shoes are best for aging walkers suffering from knee OA, and they discovered that those who wore “stable, supportive shoes” for six months outperformed those who wore “flat and flexible” shoes.
“Evidence did show a between-group difference in pain change favoring stable supportive shoes,” the study concluded. “Stable supportive shoes favored improvements in knee-related quality of life and ipsilateral hip pain.” Furthermore, the study discovered that those who wore more flexible shoes had twice the risk of developing foot and ankle pain as those who wore more stable shoes.
6. You’re Exercising While Carrying Your Purse—or Weights
If you need to bring something with you, don’t bring it in anything with a single-shoulder strap, according to DePatie. “Don’t bring a purse,” she suggests. “Purses have a tendency to pull you to one side and throw off your posture. Bring out your fanny pack if you have one. For the same reason, avoid carrying your water bottles or hand weights.” For more reasons to get out there and walk, check out What Walking for Just 20 Minutes Does to Your Body, According to Science.