Walking it off

Safe and effective aerobic exercise.

Sheri Colberg-Ochs By Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

Is your health your biggest excuse for not being more physically active? Whether your biggest health complaint is high blood pressure, loss of feeling in your feet, or arthritic knees, it's time to change your thinking. There is mounting evidence that older individuals with chronic health problems respond just as well to exercise training as their younger counterparts; yet, many older people still choose not to be physically active. One reason may be their health, as 85 percent of people over the age of 65 have some health problem that they may view as a deterrent to exercise. Diabetes should definitely not be one of them, though, and neither should almost all of the others.

Aerobic exercise makes your heart work harder to pump blood out to the rest of your body more quickly and with more force than normal. As blood is pumped faster, it must be oxygenated more quickly, which makes you breathe more often. As a positive consequence, though, aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and boosts healthy cholesterol levels. In fact, regular training will also improve the oxygen-using capacity of your muscles, the amount of muscle mass that you have, your blood glucose control, and many other chronic ailments.

The Surgeon General recently recommended moderate amounts of daily, aerobic physical activity consisting of 30 minutes of moderate activities (like brisk walking) or shorter sessions of more intense exercise, including jogging or playing basketball for 15 to 20 minutes. Lower impact aerobic exercises include mild walking, swimming, cycling, t'ai chi, and the like. Running, tennis, and aerobic dance classes are examples of higher impact forms of cardiovascular workouts. Moderate walking, though, is more sustainable over a lifetime than many other activities, making it one of the best "medicines" for both the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes and for your overall health.

Ideally, your chosen activities should be ones that allow you to move your whole body over the greatest distance possible to maximize your energy expenditure. However, although both walking and jogging fall into this category of activities, most overweight adults will find jogging and running either too difficult or simply not enjoyable. As an alternative, you can trick yourself into walking more simply by incorporating it into other activities – like walking farther than you need to when you go shopping. Walking can be the gateway to more vigorous exercise, which can further increase your overall health benefits. As a bonus, your self-confidence may improve once you start a walking program, which may lead you to start including additional physical activities into your life. You might even want to try out ballroom dancing, cycling, low impact aerobics classes, or other forms of aerobic exercise. Always take advantage of any strong physical attributes that you have, such as stronger legs from carrying around your extra body weight.

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Last Modified Date: February 21, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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