What a Daily Walking Habit Does to Your Body After 60, Says Science
A recent survey reports that the average American spends two hours every single day lounging on their sofa of choice. Even more striking: a staggering 61% of respondents say their couch has become their "new best friend" ever since COVID-19 arrived, which forced us all indoors. Now, there's nothing wrong with some rest and relaxation, but it's so important for everyone to get up and get moving on a daily basis. There's no easier way to accomplish that than going for a walk. Moreover, while regular physical activity is advisable at any age, it's an absolute non-negotiable past one's 60th birthday.
"Walking is a universal exercise that never gets old and is the perfect companion for people over 60 years," says Isaac Robertson, CPT, co-founder of Total Shape. "Plus, walking is risk-free and hassle-free."
It's common knowledge that walking can help with weight control. For instance, this study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a 30-minute daily walk is enough to promote sustained weight management and avoid packing on extra pounds. Additionally, fascinating recent research presented at the American Physiological Society (APS) Integrative Physiology of Exercise conference reports you don't even have to push yourself very hard. Researchers concluded walking at one's own pace is enough to burn fat at optimum efficiency.
Many older adults avoid exercise altogether over fears related to injuring themselves or feeling like they're "too old" for physical activity. Walking represents the best way to ease such individuals back into a healthy, more active lifestyle. "When it comes to starting a new exercise routine a lot of activities can be intimidating," explains Jack McNamara, Ms.C., C.S.C.S., of TrainFitness. "Fears of doing the exercise wrong, worsening existing medical conditions, and the risk of injury can all play on our mind. That's why walking is such a wonderful exercise—especially as we get past the age of 60."
You may be wondering what else walking can do for you. The truth is, walking on a daily basis is linked to numerous unexpected and amazing benefits. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, walking, creativity, and positive mood are all associated with one another. Essentially, the more you walk, the happier and more creative you'll be. Perhaps the better question you should be asking yourself is: "What can't walking do for me?"
Karisa Karmali, CPT, Founder of Self-Love and Fitness, eloquently boiled it down for us: "Walking is almost an insurance policy for aging well."
If you want to learn more about what walking can do for your body after 60, read on. And if you already love to walk, make sure you're aware of The Secret Cult Walking Shoe That Walkers Everywhere Are Obsessed With.
It'll Help You Live a Longer Life
Walking every day can provide your body with greater longevity and help you live a longer life. Even better, Harvard researchers have even figured out the exact amount of daily steps it takes: 4,400. Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the study tracked a group of older women (average age: 72 years old) for over four years. Ultimately study authors concluded that 4,400 steps per day is enough to "significantly lower risk of death."
Importantly, that study also reports that the health benefits of daily walking tend to level off around the 7,500 step mark. In other words, there's no need to spend all day walking. Simply get in 4,000-5,000 steps and call it a day!
Remember, you don't need to do it all at once. "Exercise is medicine, and I recommend little bits dosed frequently," says Pouya Shafipour, M.D., of Paloma Health. "Starting with fewer steps per day will help you stick with the habit instead of aiming for 10,000 or more right off the bat and burning out. More isn't always better when sustainable health is the goal." And for more on the benefits of walking, check out Exactly How Fast You Need to Walk to Live Longer, Says Science.
You'll Stave Off Depression
When we're depressed it can feel like we're stuck in mud struggling to move—and sometimes a little bit of movement can go a long way toward beating negative feelings. Walking can benefit mental health perhaps just as much as anything physical, as evidenced by Harvard research published in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers report walking for one hour per day can cut one's risk of depression by over a quarter.
"We saw a 26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity," notes study author Karmel Choi, Ph.D., a clinical and research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "This increase in physical activity is what you might see on your activity tracker if you replaced 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of moderate activity like brisk walking."
Another study published in Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine tracked nearly 5,000 older adults (65+) and found that moderate leisure walking helps promote stronger overall mental health. And for more great walking tips you can use, don't miss these Bad Walking Habits Every Walker Should Quit, Say Experts.
You'll Have a Sharper Brain
"More than physical health, it is equally important to keep a healthy mind especially when you're past 60," says Jolene Caufield, Senior Advisor at Healthy Howard. "Walking is not only a way to keep you on your toes literally. It is also one of the best ways to reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer's. But before you start walking your way to a healthy mind and body, consult with your doctor first, and then get yourself a comfortable pair of walking shoes."
One study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that brisk walking increases the size of the hippocampus among older adults. The hippocampus is responsible for memory formation. Older adults who regularly went for a walk also scored higher on memory tests. Also, this study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reports physical activity past the age of 50 is associated with greater overall cognitive functioning.
"As a bonus—if older adults walk with a pal regularly, they may have an even better brain boost. Research published in International Psychogeriatrics shows greater loneliness is associated with lower cognitive function, so walking with a friend helps both through the exercise itself as well as the social connection," says Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD, LDN, ACSM-cPT, of Snacking in Sneakers.
You'll Have a Stronger, Healthier Heart
"Of course, walking protects the heart and lungs, so it increases the fitness of the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, which are more and more critical the more we age," says Karmali. "It inevitably reduces the risk of stroke and heart diseases and aids in the management of diabetes, hypertension, and high blood pressure."
In support of walking's heart benefits is this research project, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers analyzed 42 prior studies encompassing nearly 2,000 people, ultimately concluding that regularly going for a walk promotes healthy blood pressure, overall cholesterol levels, and resting heart rate.
You'll Have Stronger Muscles and Bones
As we get older, our muscles break down and our bones become weaker. Some of that is unavoidable, but walking can help slow the hands of time—all without placing too much strain on the joints. "Movement and exercise is critical after 60 because the body can lose muscle mass pretty quickly if an individual stays sedentary," says Christine Wang, of TheSkiGirl. "Walking provides enough resistance to help build and maintain muscle mass without being too stressful or damaging on the body. This is another benefit it has over more intense types of exercise for older individuals."
Research published in The American Journal of Medicine states that "healthy postmenopausal women who walk approximately 1 mile each day have higher whole-body bone density than women who walk shorter distances. Walking is also effective in slowing the rate of bone loss from the legs. These results strongly support the widely held belief that walking is a beneficial form of physical activity for maintaining skeletal integrity."
Meanwhile, this study published in The European Review of Aging and Physical Activity found that walking can improve and maintain muscle quality in older adults. And for more tips on becoming a better walker starting now, see here for The Secret Tricks for Walking for Exercise, According to Walking Specialists.