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Improve Mobility by Walking

November 2, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Most people think of exercise as a way to maintain health, strength, and flexibility. But the truth is, it’s much more than that. Of course, there’s nothing better than exercise when it comes to being healthy—but, it turns out, there’s nothing better than exercise when it comes to regaining health as well.

And when I say exercise can help you regain your health, I don’t mean going into the gym or sweating up a storm. In fact, the only exercise you need to combat the number one problem for seniors is something you’ve been doing all your life: walking.

The most common problem later in life

As we age, many people struggle with mobility, to one degree or another. Whether you fall sick, suffer an accident, avoid pain caused by a problem like arthritis, or just grow frail over time, mobility tends to suffer.

In fact, of those over the age of 65, 40% of people have a disability. And of that 40%, fully two-thirds have trouble getting around.

Of course, losing mobility is frustrating all by itself. But that’s just the start of it.

A number of the issues associated with loss of mobility are self-reinforcing. It hurts to walk, so you become more sedentary—and your muscles atrophy, your bones weaken, and then it hurts even more to walk.

Or you move less because you’ve gained weight, so you burn less calories, so you put on more weight.

Or you feel depressed, so you shut yourself into your room more often, denying your body the happy endorphins movement creates, deepening your depression.

It’s very easy for a lack of movement to spiral downwards into a true mobility problem.

But there are extra problems that come with being more sedentary. One under-reported danger is thrombosis—the same problems that can happen when you stay still for long periods of time on flights.

Thrombosis happens when, encouraged by lack of movement, a few blood cells clot together.

Sometimes, the clot is small, and can go months without problem—sometimes even dissolving over time.

But sometimes, a thrombosis clot can cause a blockage—and it can happen anywhere in your body. Your legs, your heart, your brain—thrombosis is no laughing matter.

That’s just one of dozens of problems that can arise from mobility problems—way too many for me to cover here. But I will highlight one other danger—and it’s the biggest one.

As you lose mobility, you also lose strength and balance. That means falls are much more likely. And, when falls are more likely, so are dangerous breaks.

The vast majority of hip fractures—87-96%—occur in those over 65. And mortality shoots up three-fold for those who have suffered hip fractures.

That’s scary. It’s a very good reason to maintain your mobility in the first place.

But even if you’ve lost some mobility, there are ways to regain it. And even if you have broken your hip, there are studies which suggest survival rates return to normal soon after the hip fracture, as long as you make it through the crucial period immediately after a break.

So, even if you’re already in a bad spot, you still have control over your outcomes.

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What is decreased mobility?

Defining mobility problems may seem a simple task—and, in many ways, it is. If you find yourself struggling to get around the way you used to, you probably have decreased mobility.

But knowing when it’s reached a crisis point is important. And there are two questions that University of Alabama researchers recommend you answer to figure out if you’re in excessive risk of issues related to lack of mobility.

First—do you have difficulty climbing ten steps, or walking one-quarter mile?

Difficulty could mean you grow short of breath, or it could mean you have to stop and gather yourself before continuing. The important thing here is, be honest with yourself. If you have trouble moving this distance, you should know it.

The second question—have you modified the way you climb ten steps, or walk a quarter-mile?

That could mean that you pull yourself up using a bannister, or that you keep contact with a wall. Don’t worry if you use a cane, but if you need a walker, that’s a different story.

If you answered yes to either question, you might not have decreased mobility yet, but you’re well on your way.

The answer to your mobility problems

Recently, researchers completed a study of 1,600 seniors.

One group was given education about exercises, and told what they should do.

The other group attended exercise classes, where they practiced strength training, balance exercises, flexibility, and aerobic exercises. The cornerstone of the program was walking. Really—it can be that simple. All study participants were either told to try to exercise moderately 150 minutes a week—or 75 minutes vigorously—or they were led in exercises that lasted about that long each week.

After just under three years, the results were clear. The group that had regular guided exercise was 25% less likely to develop mobility issues.

The exercise program lowered the risk of becoming disabled in the first place.

But, if you have become disabled for some reason, exercising speeds up recovery, and reduces your chances of becoming hurt again.

It’s really very simple: Exercise won’t just increase the quality of your life. It can also prolong it.

Unfortunately, very few seniors get enough exercise. Only 28% of those over 75 get regular aerobic exercise, and only 8% get enough strength training.

If you want to remain healthy through as many of your days as possible, be in that active minority. We’re a culture that’s constantly in search of the miracle pill, or the miracle cure.

But it’s very simple. We know the miracle cure is exercise. And it can be as simple as going for a walk each and every day.

Believe me, it’s worth it. And so are you.

References

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