It’s no secret that walking is a crucial part of healthy aging. According to the Arthritis Foundation, people who engage in some form of exercise, including walking, are 35% less likely to die in the next eight years of their life than people who do not regularly walk. That number increases to 45% when comparing walkers vs. non-walkers with pre-existing health conditions.
There are many reasons for that; walking helps keep your heart healthy with lower blood pressure, improved circulation, and healthier weight. But did you know that walking can also help prevent frailty?
What is Frailty?
If you’ve ever known an older adult who has struggled with lack of strength and energy, they were probably suffering from frailty. Whether it’s opening a jar that they used to open with ease or struggle to get up off of their favorite chair, frailty can take many forms. Generally speaking, symptoms of frailty are within the following five categories:
- low grip strength
- low energy
- low physical activity
- slow walking speed
- losing weight unintentionally
Scientists at Johns Hopkins have found that one in four people over the age of 84 are considered frail. Frailty often goes hand-in-hand with falls and other injuries, as well as slower recovery periods for those who do undergo surgery or other procedures.
And while it may feel like it, frailty is not an inevitability. Something as simple as a daily walk can help prevent the onset of frailty so you or your loved one can stay independent into old age.
Increase Flexibility and Balance
It might be easy for someone to think that walking is dangerous and should be avoided. For many, especially those who are frail, walking is difficult because they feel unsteady and struggle with balance. And when you’re frail, losing your balance and falling can turn into a major injury and even emergency surgery.
However, walking helps to improve your lower body strength, which in turn improves your balance and flexibility. If you use a cane or walker, continue to do so with the goal of building strength to walk on your own, if possible. The more independent you are, the more likely you’ll be to enjoy walking and create lifelong habits.
Maintain Muscle Mass
One of the main ways to keep your bones and joints strong is to maintain the muscles that support those bones. If you can begin maintaining muscle mass, as opposed to building it back after losing it, you’ll have a much faster and easier time preventing the onset of frailty.
Aim to walk at a comfortable but quick pace (according to your ability) for 30 minutes a day. If your loved one has been largely inactive, plan to work their way up in both pace and time. As they walk, their body will start to build muscle and make it easier. Over time, these muscles help keep them fit, flexible, and mobile.
Build an Active Lifestyle
It may sound small, but walking every day for 30 minutes can become an important part of a person’s daily routine. Especially if they start to enjoy it and decide to increase that time to an hour or more each day.
Once walking is built into your daily routine, you’re building habits that will make a huge difference over the long haul. Even better if you can find a community of people who are pursuing this same active lifestyle. Perhaps a family member joins you for your walk twice a week and a friend three days a week. By creating healthy habits and incorporating them into your social calendar, you’ll be much more likely to follow through.
Frailty is Not an Inevitability
You can prevent the onset of frailty, improving your lifestyle drastically into your golden years. At Home Instead®, it is one of our 8 elements of care to preserve our clients’ mobility and independence as much as possible. Our Care Professionals can make sure that your loved one is not only increasing their flexibility, balance, and strength through walking but also offering them a listening ear to make walks more enjoyable.
If the senior in your life is frail and needs help, Home Instead’s Care Professionals are here to help.