The American Senior Fitness Association presents Experience!

November 2, 2007              

Table of Contents
  • Be a Dear (Help our adopted nursing home patients)
  • Walking as an Aerobic Exercise (Smart tips for seniors)

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Be a Dear

Click on GumboIt's the time of the season when many people's thoughts turn to giving. Especially deserving of your kindness is Louisiana's Home for the Incurables, a nonprofit agency serving the historic New Orleans nursing home adopted earlier this year by SFA. Your generosity will help its elderly residents, many of whom were negatively impacted by Hurricane Katrina. One very fortunate Katrina survivor, Gumbo the cat, serves as our mascot for this endeavor. So please click on Gumbo for details on how you can help.

Walking as an Aerobic Exercise

Following is an informative article written by SFA affiliate Ellen Coven, M.A., a nationally recognized senior fitness author, educator, and dance-exercise choreographer. It is reprinted by permission of the Senior Fitness Bulletin.

The benefits of walking. The human mechanism has been designed with precise "specs" for locomotion. It is the ultimate walking machine. Walking, the most natural of body movements, recruits numerous moving parts without over-stressing the spine or joints. Walking is low-impact (1.5 times body weight) as compared to jogging (3 to 4 times body weight).

Walking is an excellent aerobic exercise with many impressive features and an impressive safety record. In recent years, walking has become the number one fitness activity in the United States. Its popularity has grown, in no small part, because of the many benefits it provides:
  • Less risk of cardiovascular disease: improved heart-lung function, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels;
  • Better sugar metabolism: especially important in regard to diabetes;
  • Stronger bones: less mineral loss;
  • Stronger muscles: preserved ability to carry out activities of daily living;
  • Improved flexibility: better mobility;
  • Better balance: lowered risk for falls;
  • Improved weight control: better body composition (ratio of fat to lean mass);
  • Increased blood flow to the brain: better logical and creative thinking;
  • Better mental health: less depression;
  • Increased socialization: being out-and-about or walking with others.
Walking is easy, safe, convenient, and affordable. Walking 4 mph for 30 minutes uses approximately 150 calories; walking at slower speeds also can burn off significant calories. An ideal alternative to aerobic dance activities, walking can help to balance and add variety to one's exercise program.

Walking partners rest during their daily outingPreparing to walk. Performing a thorough warm-up will prepare the body for energetic walking and will help to ensure an effective, injury-free workout. The warm-up should include low-level active movements, rhythmical limbering activities, and mild conditioning exercises designed to gently engage the major joints and muscles. This can be followed by conservative stretching. Stretches should be static -- no bouncing! They may be held for 30 to 60 seconds. Remember, do not hold your breath and always check for proper body alignment.

During the aerobic walking session. Walking at the proper pace will guarantee an aerobic workout, as opposed to a stroll. Monitoring one's heart rate and/or RPE (rate of perceived exertion) can help to keep one working within the THR (target heart rate) zone. Intensity should be checked every ten minutes during the walk. Walking measured solely by distance may not produce optimal aerobic intensity levels.

After the aerobic walk. After completing an aerobic walking session, it is important to include an adequate cool-down. The cool-down brings the body's systems safely back to their normal states. Stopping abruptly can "shock" the body, causing nausea, dizziness, or other complications.

The cool-down should begin with a slow walk lasting for at least 3 to 4 minutes. After the slow walk, finish with a "post" stretch that includes a wide variety of stretching activities. Hold each stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds and breathe evenly. The "post" stretch can aid in reducing next-day muscle soreness.

Increasing the intensity level. As endurance and strength improve, it may become harder to reach the THR zone. Intensity levels can be boosted by:
  • Increasing speed. Walking faster can increase the workout intensity. However, it can also increase the chance of a misstep and subsequent injury. Always know the conditions of the route beforehand and take extra care with your footing.
  • Increasing duration. Increasing the walking time will burn more calories. After 30 minutes most of the fuel used for aerobic exercise is in the form of fat. However, exceeding 45 minutes may not bring significant additional aerobic benefits and could increase the risk of injury. For some walkers, motivation is also harder to sustain over long durations.
  • Increasing incline. Routes that include slight inclines will increase workout intensity. However, walking on inclines does have the potential to over-stress the lower back and knees in some individuals.
  • Increasing weight load. Adding weights to the walk will increase intensity. However, adding weights is controversial. If done, the weights must be introduced gradually and cautiously. Weights have the potential to over-stress the back, neck, shoulders, and elbows. They can also increase blood pressure. Building up to the use of one pound wrist weights may safely increase intensity for some individuals. It is generally inadvisable to use heavier weights for aerobic training. Ankle weights should not be used while walking because they tend to over-stress the back, hips, and knees. They also affect balance and, thus, can be dangerous. Weighted belts can put undue stress on the back. The closer the weight is to the center of the body, the less it will increase intensity. Two pounds on the wrists (one pound per arm) will have more effect on the overall work level than a two pound belt. If walking with added weight, always monitor the pulse and/or RPE carefully.
Shoes. A really good pair of sneakers will not only allow you to work comfortably, but will also help to prevent injury. When choosing a walking shoe, look for the following:
  • Comfortable fit. The toe box needs to be roomy enough to allow the toes to move. It should also have sufficient height and width. Look for a shoe that fits comfortably and doesn't have to be broken in.
  • Flexibility. The shoe should flexible at the ball of the foot as well as at the top. It should bend where the foot bends.
  • Support. Good shoe support helps keep the foot in the proper position. Proper foot position, in turn, prevents injury and excessive fatigue. Support is especially important in the heel and arch areas.
  • Cushioning. There should be adequate cushioning throughout the sole and at the heel. The heel takes the most impact during walking. Cushioning helps to prevent blisters.
  • Breathability. The shoe material has to allow air to circulate, both for comfort and for blister prevention. Good materials include leather and nylon mesh.
  • Light weight. Moving (agility) is easier in a lightweight shoe.
  • Relatively shallow treads. They won't impede lateral movement should it ever be needed during a walk. The treads must be deep enough, however, to provide safe traction when walking outdoors.
Clothing. Clothing should be chosen for comfort. It should be loose enough for the arms and legs to move freely and absorbent enough to keep the body as dry as possible. Clothing should be layered so it can be removed as the body warms, or added if weather conditions change.

In warm weather, a lightweight sweater can be removed and tied around the waist as the body becomes warmer during the walk. Light-colored cotton clothing reflects heat and absorbs perspiration.

In cold weather, layered clothing works better to insulate the body than one heavy jacket. It also gives you the option of removing layers if you become too warm. Fine wool next to the body keeps warmth in and draws away wetness. Dark colors absorb the sun's rays. Because most heat is lost through the head and hands, remember to wear a hat and gloves.

Additonal walking wear should include: comfortable socks (cotton is a good fabric), a reflective vest when it's dark, and a small belt pouch for holding keys, tissues, and other necessities.
Time keeping. A watch is essential equipment for keeping track of total walking time. A watch to be used for periodic pulse counts must have a stop device or second hand. Watches need to be comfortable and easy to read.

Portable music player. Walking to music can establish the correct pace and help to maintain momentum. For many individuals, it makes the exercise more interesting and enjoyable. There are lots of players on the market, and prices vary. Look for one that can attach securely to a belt and has comfortable headphones. Remember to carry spare batteries. Nothing is more frustrating than to be well into your walk only to find that your music is fading! Always keep the volume low enough so that you are able to hear sounds of danger if they occur.

Walking safety. Observe all general exercise safety guidelines. Specific safety rules for aerobic walking include the following:
  • Always carry identification. (Editor's note: Walkers might also choose to take along a cellular phone, mace or pepper spray, and a bandana for patting off perspiration.)
  • Make sure that medical bracelets are visible and that emergency medication is carried.
  • Do not eat or chew gum while fitness walking.
  • Do not walk when humidity and temperature are high: 50% humidity/over 85 degrees F.
  • Do not walk when the wind chill is extreme: 15 mph wind/under 10 degrees F.
  • Wear clothing appropriate for existing weather conditions.
  • Wear sunscreen to help protect the skin.
  • Drink adequate amounts of water, especially during hot weather.
  • Walk against traffic.
  • Know the surface conditions of the route before starting; check for holes and obstructions.
  • Avoid walking on dangerous surfaces such as broken sidewalks, icy patches, or wet leaves.
Walking enjoyment. Here are some ideas on how to keep your activities pleasurable, which may help you to stick with your aerobic walking program:
  • Vary your routes, but remember to "scout" surface conditions first.
  • Try mall-walking during inclement weather.
  • Walk with a partner of equal ability.
  • Join a local walking club.

Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

Free SFA basic membership: If you aren't already a member of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA), just sign up online at There are no fees or membership dues. And, we don't give out our members' personal information to others! When you join SFA, you'll receive our e-newsletter "Experience!" which will bring you older adult fitness news, research, and wellness tips.

Fitness and health professionals: You may distribute copies of Experience! to your exercise clients and patients as a free newsletter service. Copies of Experience! or excerpts therefrom must always ascribe credit to the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA). To fulfill that requirement, include the complete banner (title information at the top of each newsletter) as well as all post-newsletter notes, messages, copyright information, and the SFA logo.

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Copyright 2007 American Senior Fitness Association (SFA)