Seniors, increase your step count for better health

Seniors, increase your step count for better health

In today’s world, where step counters are commonly found in mobile phones and other handheld devices, tracking your steps and walking distance offers a valuable measure of your fitness and exercise efforts.

However, this metric is meaningful only if you have a valid baseline for comparison.

A common question arises: how many steps should you take in a day?

The widely-promoted idea that the average person should aim for 10,000 steps daily is more rooted in marketing than science.

This notion originated from a 1960s Japanese pedometer marketing campaign and has since been perpetuated by American fitness gadgets.

While 10,000 steps is the default goal on many fitness trackers, its validity is often questioned.

ALSO READ: Is 10,000 daily steps really the magic number for better health?

A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, focused on older women to address how many steps per day seniors should aim for to maintain their health.

Researchers monitored 17,000 participants with an average age of 72, using fitness trackers during their daily routines.

They found that for these women, walking about 4,000 steps each day significantly boosted longevity and health.

Participants who averaged 4,400 steps per day were 40% less likely to die in the following months and years than those who took just 2,700 steps.

ALSO READ: Walk 4,000 steps a day to get away from early death

Notably, the health benefits peaked at 7,500 steps per day, with no additional benefits beyond that point.

For younger individuals, 10,000 steps per day might be insufficient.

To lose weight or prevent weight gain, younger people might need to aim for as many as 15,000 steps per day.

ALSO READ: Walking 10,000 steps doesn’t help with weight loss

However, for older adults, this target is often unrealistic.

Simple and easy activity

Regular physical activity is crucial at any age, especially as you get older.

Walking is a low-strain activity that healthy older adults can do regularly without needing special equipment or structured environments.

A study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that healthy older adults typically take between 2,000 and 9,000 steps per day.

This study also explored whether more intense workouts benefited older adults, concluding that increasing walking speed to 100 steps per minute for 30 minutes each day could provide various significant health benefits by adding an additional 3,000 steps daily.

Here are some of the health benefits of walking:

  • Heart health 

    Regular walking helps improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol levels and enhancing circulation.

  • Weight management 

    Walking burns calories, which helps in maintaining a healthy weight or aiding weight loss.

  • Bone and muscle strength 

    Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that strengthens bones and muscles, thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis and muscle loss.

  • Mental health 

    Physical activity, including walking, releases endorphins that improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  • Diabetes management 

    Walking helps regulate blood sugar levels, making it beneficial for people with diabetes or those at risk of this chronic disease.

  • Mobility and balance 

    Regular walking enhances balance and coordination, thus reducing the risk of falls.

Adjusting step goals

While 2,000 to 9,000 steps is a good general target, some seniors might need to adjust this based on their own individual circumstances:

  • 5,000 to 7,000 steps per day 

    This range can still offer significant health benefits, particularly for seniors who may have mobility issues or chronic conditions that make higher step counts challenging.

    Even within this range, walking can help manage blood sugar levels, improve heart health, and enhance mental well-being.

  • Less than 5,000 steps per day 

    For seniors with severe mobility limitations or health issues, the focus should be on increasing activity levels gradually.

    It’s important for seniors to consult with their healthcare providers to set personalised step goals.

Factors that should be considered include:

  • Current health status 

    Seniors with conditions like arthritis, heart disease or respiratory issues may need tailored advice.

  • Fitness level 

    Those who are already active may aim for higher step counts, while those new to exercise should start slowly.

  • Mobility and balance 

    Ensuring safety is crucial.

    Using supportive footwear and assistive devices if necessary can help prevent falls and injuries.

  • Daily routine 

    Incorporating walking into daily routines, such as short walks after meals or parking further from store entrances, can make it easier to reach step goals.

Increasing step count

Even small increases in physical activity can be beneficial.

For seniors who have difficulty in moving or serious health issues, starting with a lower step goal and gradually increasing it as their fitness improves is advisable.

Here are some tips on how to do so:

  • Start small 

    Begin with achievable goals and gradually increase the step count.

  • Use technology 

    Pedometers, fitness trackers or smartphone apps can help track steps and motivate progress.

  • Incorporate social activities 

    Walking with friends, family or in groups can make the activity more enjoyable and sustainable.

  • Break it up 

    Instead of one long walk, take several shorter walks throughout the day.

  • Choose enjoyable routes 

    Walking in parks, around neighbourhoods or on nature trails can make the activity more pleasant.

For older adults looking to improve their health through walking, it’s recommended to set realistic goals.

Begin with a few 10-minute walks each day and gradually work up to longer walks or joining walking groups and exploring new parks and trails.

For most seniors to maintain health, the key is to find a personalised goal that is safe and achievable.

Consulting healthcare providers and gradually increasing activity levels can help seniors enjoy the many benefits of walking.

Any increase in daily steps can positively impact overall health and well-being.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email [email protected]. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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