The average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day, quite a bit less than the 10,000 steps you may have heard recommended. Taking 10,000 steps a day may be a great goal for you — or, if you are taking closer to a few hundred steps each day, a better idea may be to start with a goal that is more manageable for you and build from there.
For now, learn how taking a daily walk is an excellent habit, especially for older adults: It helps you maintain a healthy weight, prevent chronic conditions, improve your cardiovascular fitness, improve your memory and strengthen your immune system.
Maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat
“A 150-pound person walking a mile in 20 minutes will burn about 80 calories,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. “If you’re heavier, you torch more calories because it takes more energy to move more mass. Likewise, the count is lower if you weigh less.”
Remember those 10,000 steps a day? It’s important to know that not all steps are created equal. Shuffling 10,000 steps may not be as effective as 5,000 steps up a steep hill, for example. One suggestion is to count minutes rather than steps and ensure that those steps equate to moderate-intensity exercise. That means you should walk for at least 10 minutes at a time and feel your heart rate rise but still be able to carry on a conversation.
Prevent or manage chronic conditions
From type 2 diabetes to dementia, chronic conditions all require specific interventions to help people manage them. But one thing they all have in common is that walking may be able to help prevent and manage them.
“Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health, fitness, and quality of life,” according to the CDC. “It also helps reduce your risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, many types of cancer, depression and anxiety, and dementia.”
To reach the 150 minutes of physical activity per week recommended for adults, the CDC suggests walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week. It may be hard to find the time and energy at first, especially if you suffer from chronic conditions, but start with just a few minutes a day and you just find that your symptoms become more manageable!
Improve your cardiovascular fitness
When you go for a brisk walk, you do your heart a lot of good. The heart beats about 2.5 billion times over the average lifespan, so the older you get, the more it has earned a little TLC!
Aerobic walking “increases your heart rate, strengthens your heart, and increases blood circulation through your body, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to your organs,” according to http://uofmhealth.org.
Improve your memory
“A nice, brisk walk is such a perfect exercise for seniors,” said Dan Daly, administrator at Lawton Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco. “It works many muscles, sends oxygen to the brain, improves energy levels and even improves mood and cognition.”
Science backs this up. An October 2021 study in NeuroImage found that aerobic walking improved episodic memory performance and helped the brain’s white matter retain elasticity in the 60- to 79-year-old participants.
Strengthen your immune system
As we age, our immune systems become less effective. Besides washing your hands and keeping your distance from people when they’re sick, is there anything that can be done about this? Yes, according to UCLA:
“Regularly going for a walk … can benefit your immune system by helping immune cells to perform effectively — increasing blood flow, reducing stress and inflammation, and strengthening antibodies.”
It’s never too late to add a daily walk into your routine. Start with just a few minutes a couple of times a week, and then build from there. You’ll help yourself maintain a healthy weight, prevent chronic conditions, improve your cardiovascular fitness, improve your memory and even strengthen your immune system.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.