Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterFall 2011

Walk! Get in Shape the Easy Way

Group Health member Lester Goldstein started walking when he pocketed the 10 cents given to him for trolley car fare and hiked three miles to school. Today he's still logging about two miles a day.

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"It's the perfect exercise," he says. "It gives you pleasure and independence, and you never get stuck in a traffic jam or have to worry about parking spaces."

Jackie Larson from Olympia walks up to five miles, at least four times a week, around her neighborhood, rain or shine.

Even though she's fallen a couple of times, she's never broken a bone. "I think walking has helped strengthen my entire body," she says.

Many Benefits

Walking is a great way for older adults to improve fitness and stay in shape. It can potentially decrease the risk of diabetes and heart disease, improve diabetic control in those who have diabetes, and help with depression and anxiety, says John Gayman, MD, family physician at Capitol Hill Campus in Seattle. "Being physically fit helps maintain muscle mass and independence, and is associated with longevity," he says. "My 95-year-old mother, who still walks twice a day, is an excellent role model."

To set safe goals, talk with your doctor before beginning a program, especially if you have any chronic conditions. Then get walking or running shoes with good support, warm up with a few stretches, and go.

How to Walk

When you walk, relax your body and let your arms swing naturally as you find your stride. At first, you may get winded going only a short distance. That's okay. Do what you can, and increase your distance in increments as little as 10 minutes until you reach your goal.

To help maintain a steady program, commit to walking with a buddy, leash up your dog, or join a walking group. Goldstein and Ramona Memmer, from Seattle, joined Senior Zoo Walkers. Memmer also suggests combining walking with a destination, and she regularly walks to the store, exercise class, the library, and around her neighborhood to check out the gardens.

Liz Brandzel walks home from the Mad Pea communal garden in Seattle, and participates in cancer and leukemia charity walks. "These are wonderful opportunities to train, be part of an active group, and contribute to a good cause," she says.

Have Fun, Stay Safe

The point here is to have fun by making it easy on yourself. If you feel a bit unsure on your feet, use a walking stick for better balance. If you feel unsafe walking alone or are concerned for your health, take your cell phone or consider walking in a mall, like Erling and Judith Borgerson of Edmonds.

"We started walking in Alderwood Mall because Erling has emphysema and needs to rest occasionally," says Judith. "It's dry, safe, and secure, and the mall and bathrooms open early in the morning. It's the perfect place for us to exercise together because I can walk faster and farther, and still meet up with him."

Erling says he's breathing easier since starting this walking program, and Goldstein credits walking with keeping him healthy. "At 86 years old, I'm the oldest person in my family," he says. "I don't think I would have made it this far if I hadn't walked all these years."

Resources to Get You Walking

Senior Zoo WalkersEnjoy Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo grounds on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 9:15 a.m. Open to anyone for $15 per quarter. To register, call the Woodland Park Zoo at 206-684-4841.
YMCA, senior or community center, or community collegeMany offer walking activities. For example, the Matt Griffin Highline YMCA in Seattle offers hikes guided by an experienced volunteer.
Everybodywalk.orgThe website, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, has information on walking groups, tips for how to begin a walking program, and more.
Thewalkingsite.comGo to to learn about clubs and groups, events, gear, motivation, nutrition, and more, including the 10,000-step program.
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