The benefits of fast walking are tremendous for older walkers. In a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers from five universities found walkers 60 and older who strode at an average pace reduced their cardiovascular risk by 46 percent; fast walkers reduced their risk by 53 percent.
My UK Chiropractor’s advise for me always is, ‘if you take 15 minutes to get to your usual destination, try to do it in 10 minutes’.
Science has confirmed fast walking could add years to your life and even help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and dementia.
Walking faster may be a good option to get the heart rate up — one that most people can easily incorporate into their daily lives.
The British study confirms what the National Walkers’ Health Study reported in 2013: a brisk walk beats jogging for health benefits while protecting older bones and joints from unnecessary stress. The National Walkers’ study was the first of its kind to demonstrate the health benefits of stepping lively over time.
If you’re naturally a slow walker, there’s a silver lining: an incremental increase in pace also reduces the risk of premature death. In the Berkeley study, walkers who were just a minute or so faster than the slowest group still experienced a significant uptick in longevity.
Fast walking can help improve heart health and reduce the risk of dementia and early death — and it’s an easy exercise routine to incorporate into your daily life.
How Walking Increases Bone Mineral Density
Another important benefit of fast walking is bone remodeling. Contrary to popular belief, bone is not solid, but is continually being rebuilt, or remodeled, at various sites throughout your skeleton.
In the first year of life, almost 100 percent of bone is remodeled as a baby grows. In adults, remodeling takes place at the rate of about ten percent per year.
However, lack of exercise, especially after menopause, can lead to bone loss. Weakened bones are more prone to breaking, often resulting in the dreaded hip fracture.
Walking can help prevent or stall this crippling condition. The National Institutes of Health analysed the results of ten trials and found walking created “significant and positive effects” on bone mineral density of the femur (hip bone) in an older adult population, with walking programs that last longer than six months.
Because bone building slows down after menopause, fast walking can help maintain bone mineral density, which in turn helps prevent hip fractures in older adults.
Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps?
If fast walking is one of the keys to healthy aging and building better bones, does that mean more is better? Step counters and advertising would have us believe 10,000 steps is some magical mobility goal. But this figure is more myth than magic.
10,000 steps equal somewhere between four and five miles, depending on your stride. That’s a lot of walking in a day, even for a younger person, and may be too ambitious for some seniors.
Basically, how you walk is as important as the amount of walking you do. Leisurely climbing the stairs, ambling along on the treadmill, or wandering casually down the block will all have a negligible effect on your health and bones; the goal is focused, fast walking that raises your heart rate and has you breaking a sweat.
The number of steps you take isn’t nearly as important as starting and maintaining a focused fitness program that includes regular fast walking to raise your heart rate.
Other Benefits of Fast Walking
Aside from postponing death, building healthy bones, and helping you to better overall health and fitness, walking saves your brain. As It helps you: Concentrate, remain calm, sleep better, activate creativity, reflect and regenerate.
For optimal well being, walking should be placed in the context of a complete healthy lifestyle program that supports sustainable exercise.
Walking is an all-around body benefit, boosting mood and mental activity as well as bone health.
9 Tips for Smart, Safe, Swift Walking
While walking is second nature, fast walking for health requires a different degree of attention. Follow these nine tips for safe, effective speed walking:
- Start with a stretch. Be sure to warm up with a gentle walk and, some light stretches (to the degree you’re able) before embarking on your fast walk.
- Pay attention to posture. Your grandmother may have reminded you to stand up straight, and it’s the best advice for fast walking, too. Head up, shoulders back, and walk tall with your eyes forward.
- Relax your shoulders. Hunching causes your body unnecessary strain. Relax — walking is meant to be a fun, natural workout.
- Engage your arms. Swinging your arms from side to side, keeping them slightly bent, makes walking a whole body exercise. The motion will also help increase your speed, like a tailwind.
- Breathe naturally. Some people unconsciously hold their breath when they exercise. The deeper you breathe, the more oxygen circulates through your body, and the more invigorated you’ll feel.
- Make it a habit. Schedule your walk just as you would any other appointment. Choose a time of day that suits your natural rhythm. Morning people may prefer to start their day with exercise; a night owl might groan and roll over in bed. Pick a set time, and stick with it.
- Build up your walking time gradually. Remember, it’s not the number of steps, but consistency and pace that will reap the most benefit. If you can fast-walk for 20 to 30 minutes a day, at least three times a week, that’s a good goal.
- Wear walking shoes that fit. You don’t want blisters or pain to derail your efforts. Visit an athletic shoe store and ask a knowledgeable salesperson to help you select the right shoes for your age, gait, and comfort level.
- Congratulate yourself. You’ve created a good habit to keep you healthy and build your bones that will serve you well for the rest of your life.
Warm up, relax, breathe, wear walking shoes that fit, and enjoy your fast walking routine — it’s one of the best new habits you can start.
I have myself only recently started to take it up seriously.