If you’ve been following our series on how to avoid injury decade-by-decade, you know that we recommended strengthening your hips to protect your knees in your 20s, working your core to safeguard your lower back in your 30s, focusing on your feet in your 40s by toning your legs, and stretching your back to spare your shoulders in your 50s.
Now we enter the golden years: Your 60s, 70s, 80s and well beyond. Tim Varughese, physical therapist and manager of clinical services at OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center, says the best advice for avoiding injury in older adults is the same advice for protecting your long-term health and fitness: Take a walk!
“Movement is the answer. A lot of people have the misconception that you can’t build muscle in later years like you used to. That’s not necessarily true.”
“You experience a decrease in muscle mass as you age, but for most people that’s because you’re not continuing to do the things you used to,” says Varughese.
He says regular walking is key. “When people have a regular walking routine, the difference is night and day. You wouldn’t think something so simple would have such a profound impact, but it does.”
Not falling for it
Varughese says a good walking program is crucial to maintaining balance, which is crucial to preventing falls. “As we age, one of the biggest orthopedic concerns is a fall. Your bones become less dense as you age, increasing the chances of fracture in a hip or wrist.”
“Many older folks know someone who has fractured a hip. They don’t want it to happen to them so they move less, their balance gets worse, they lose strength and confidence in their movement, so they move less, and the cycle perpetuate itself,” says Varughese. “Like we’ve talked about for the prior decades, if you sit in a chair too long, muscles tighten, posture suffers and cardiovascular quality drops. Not moving is not protecting your health. Moving is actually the solution to the problem.”
Keep it routine
For people in their 60s and older, Varughese recommends establishing a routine of walking 2 miles a day, every day. And if you can’t walk 2 miles, start where you are and work your way up. “If you can establish that routine in your early 60s, you’re much more likely to maintain muscle tone and cardiovascular health, but the big health benefit downstream is that you’ll have better balance, better reaction time and less chance of a fall,” he says.
Plan ahead, and take a friend
It’s always nice to get out and enjoy the fresh air, but when the weather won’t cooperate, Varughese says it’s good to have a plan in mind. “Try not to miss a day of walking, because it’s easy for one day to become two, and for two to become a week, and before you know it you’re out of your routine. In cold weather climates like Ohio, have an indoor location as a backup, like the mall or your neighborhood YMCA. The McConnell Heart Health Center has an indoor track, too.”
He also suggests having a walking buddy. “Friends can keep you motivated and engaged. Having that accountability and enjoying the social component will make it something you look forward to.”