The Secret to a Long, Independent Life

The Secret to a Long, Independent Life

Concerned about staying mobile and independent well into your golden years? Try this sure-fire strategy: Go for a walk. 

A study led by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Florida examined the effects of a daily walking plan, along with balancing and strength exercises, in a group of 1,635 sedentary seniors aged 70 to 89 years old for about two-and-a-half years. At the beginning of the study participants had to be able to walk 400 meters (a quarter of a mile) within 15 minutes. The goal was to preserve that ability, with the idea that walking is a main function that allows seniors to live independently. 

One group of participants went to health workshops and did upper body stretches. The other group engaged in a structured physical activity program consisting of walking 150 minutes a week and completing strength training, flexibility exercises and activities to improve balance.

Participants were assessed every six months when researchers took their weight, pulse, blood pressure—and most importantly—gauged their walking ability.

At the end of the study, researchers found that the moderate exercisers were 28% less likely to lose their mobility and 18% less likely to have a period of physical disability when compared to the education group.

The study offers more evidence that it’s never too late to start exercising to reap health rewards and maintain quality of life. And if you maintain a regular workout program and active lifestyle when you’re younger, you may lower your risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease -- and increase longevity.

But this doesn’t come as a surprise to orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright, MD. “The study is not new data,” says Dr. Wright. “But it’s a great message that our bodies are designed to move and if we continue to do so, we’ll preserve that ability for a long time.”

If walking is a problem because of achy knees or hips, she suggests starting off in water. “We don’t only have to walk on land,” Wright says. “That’s a way to get around the aches and pain of aging to get our mobility back.”

For those who can walk without the aches, begin by going “one mailbox at a time,” she says. “Once you reach the first mailbox, tell yourself you’re going to the next one. You’re much more likely to succeed than if you set a huge goal.”

And if you really want to maintain mobility, take it a step further: gradually pick up the pace and walk farther. If you’re walking on a track—something Wright recommends—start up the stairs on one side of the stadium and then go down.

“Simple walking is good, don’t get me wrong,” says Wright. “But our bodies are such adaptation machines that if that’s all you do, it’s not going to mobilize your body the way your body is capable of. Even at that age. Challenge your body. We’re designed to move. You’re not freaking your body out by doing it.”

Take the first steps to growing younger and healthier with the RealAge Test.

Medically reviewed in April 2018.

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