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Exercise & Fitness for Senior Citizens

Walking Highly Recommended for Seniors: Some Things You Should Know

Two physical training experts offer helpful ideas on making walking more fun and beneficial for older people

By Virginia Davis and Amanda Matzoll, Members Physiquality Network

April 3, 2012 - If you’re an older adult who hasn’t been active in recent years, one of the easiest ways to ease back into activity is walking – the most basic exercise there is, yet, highly touted by the American Heart Association and other health experts. It can be done by almost everyone, almost anywhere, and it can have a major positive impact on your health and happiness.

Numerous recent studies have shown that walking as few as 10,000 steps per day leads to better health, with benefits like lower blood pressure, weight loss and better heart rates. Regular walking has also been shown to improve memory and prevent diabetes.

On your mark, get set… 

Before beginning a new walking exercise program, it’s a good idea to visit your primary care physician for a check-up for information about your health and/or any problems that need to be addressed. The physical will also provide a baseline for measurement of the health benefits of your walking program, such as heart rate, weight, blood pressure, etc.


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Your physical therapist (PT) may also be an important person to see as part of the evaluation process. The PT will provide a musculoskeletal evaluation and information related to your strength, flexibility, range of motion and postural alignment. For information on programs offered by PTs that can help you, visit If you’re experiencing back, hip, knee, foot and/or ankle pain, those problems may need to be treated prior to the initiation of a walking program.

How to choose walking shoes

There is no “best” shoe, only the shoe that fits the individual the “best” - one that offers the correct support, flexibility and cushioning and helps compensate for specific problems a person may have, like a very high arched foot or a very flat foot.

Here are 10 tips to consider when buying walking shoes:

1. Seek help from a footwear expert to help find a shoe that is both long enough AND wide enough for the foot – both length and width are equally important for perfect fit.

2. Your shoes should match your weight, walking stride, distance, speed and surface.

3. Walking shoes should have a good heel counter – without flare of the heel of the shoe. A shoe with ankle padding will help keep your heel snugly in place.

4. Shoes should hug the heel so that the heel of the foot doesn’t ride up and down in the shoe and the foot is held securely by the shoe.

5. The shoe should be flexible at the forefoot to allow the shoe to “bend” with the foot to afford the ability to roll easily over the forefoot.

6. Individuals with past and/or present foot, ankle and/or lower extremity and back problems may have special needs and should consult with their PTs about shoe options.

7. Proper lacing of the shoe is important. Your shoe-fitting expert or physical therapist may be able to help you with a lacing technique that will keep a walking shoe from slipping on the heel and prevent constriction of the shoe over the top of the foot. Or, try another shoe!

8. When buying shoes, wear the type of socks you plan to wear when walking and try on shoes later in the day when your feet may be larger.

9. Remember to bring any custom orthotics and/or shoe inserts when trying on shoes so that they may be fitted into the shoe to determine overall fit and comfort.

10. Don’t tolerate any rubbing or areas of the shoe that may be “pressing” on your foot - do not buy walking shoes with the thought that you will “break them in.” The only thing that will be broken in is YOUR FOOT!

A pedometer is a MUST

Pedometers count the number of steps you take. Select a pedometer that may be placed anywhere - on a belt or waistband of your pants, around your neck, on your shoe, or in a pocket or bag. Every time you take a step, the pedometer will record it and track the number of steps you take. Some have functions that count calories, measure heart rate and record exercise time.  Some pedometers even have a GPS (global positioning system) to track your course, miles walked, and keep you from getting lost.

Most importantly, a pedometer is fun and will provide information that will allow you to set goals and then track and measure progress toward your health and walking targets. Women should take approximately 15,000 steps a day, and men approximately 18,000. This is the equivalent of about 30 minutes of continuous walking, or short walks throughout the day when walking from the back of the parking lot, taking the stairs, walking the dog, or strolling through the shopping mall.

When shopping for a pedometer, look for one that is lightweight and easy for you to use and read. Think big buttons and a visible screen. It should be basic, yet reliable, like those available from Oregon Scientific.

Other helpful information

   ● A walking partner or group makes walking more fun and will help the time pass more quickly.

   ● Dress in comfortable clothing that may be “layered” depending on the weather – ability to remove or put on a layer may be helpful as the sun comes up or goes down. Some clothing even has sun-protective features that may be important depending on time of year, time of day and altitude.

   ● If it’s too cold outside, go to the mall or find an indoor track.

   ● Wear sunscreen, a hat or visor, sunglasses and gloves as necessary for skin protection.

   ● Bring water – when the weather is hot, this is obvious, but sweating will occur even when exercising when the weather is cold. Fluid replacement is important. There are now a variety of water carriers available that may be carried in the hand, around the waist or strapped around the shoulders.  Visit a running/walking/outdoor store to check out the multitude of choices. A small bottle made by Nathan is strapped to the hand, easily available and doesn’t bounce around the waist.

   ● Socks are extremely important - they may provide cushioning for the heel and sole of the foot, or they may be very thin and fabricated from Coolmax or wool. Our favorites are Injinji Toe Socks and Balega running socks.

   ● Music will make your walk more enjoyable. It may help you carry a walking pace and provide motivational, encouraging lyrics. A word of caution: music should not be so loud that you cannot hear the sounds around you, like honking horns, police sirens, etc.

   ● Consider carrying a cell phone – NOT for talking while exercising, but ONLY for emergency. 

Last but not least…

Take every opportunity to walk instead of drive, walk the perimeter of the big box store before you begin shopping, walk around the block in the morning and again before it gets dark. Take the stairs. When you have the opportunity to take a step – DO IT!

About the authors

Virginia Davis, PT, MA is owner/president of Crescent City Physical Therapy in New Orleans, Louisiana and Director of Training for the Crescent City Classic 10k Road Race. She trained New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu for the 2011 New York City Marathon.  

Amanda Matzoll, BS, NASM-CPT, is wellness and physical activity coordinator at OMPT Specialists in Troy and Southfield, Michigan.  

Both practitioners are members of Physiquality, a national network of clinically trained, carefully screened physical therapists that offer a range of health, fitness and wellness services. For more information, visit


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