The Powerful Benefits of Walking
By Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.
Walking is very beneficial exercise, especially as people age. As little as 4,000 steps a day (less than 2 miles, or perhaps 30 minutes or so) for people 60 and over can benefit mental skills and attention (2017; doi:10.3233/JAD-170586).
This study at UCLA focused on 26 adults over 60 with no form of dementia, who had memory issues. Following them for 2 years, their daily number of steps was tracked, along with neuropsychological testing and MRI’s to evaluate their brain structures. Daily walking of more than 4,000 steps was associated with a “thicker hippocampus and surrounding regions” (the part of the brain involved in memory and spatial navigation); they also performed better on tasks requiring “attention and information processing.” People who walked less than 4,000 steps per day had opposite results.
Another study, to be released in the April issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, points out that as little as one hour of walking prevents disability in older adults with arthritis in a knee, hip, ankle, or foot. It’s estimated that 14 million older adults have knee pain due to arthritis, which is the most common form of this ailment, and about 40% of all adults with arthritis develop limitations due to the disability. Only one hour of moderate to vigorous walking helped older adults sustain their ability to perform regular tasks, such as dressing themselves or cross a street in the time allotted by traffic signals.
The data was collected over four years with more than 1,500 adults. They all had pain in their lower limbs, but were not disabled at the beginning of the study. The hour of weekly exercise reduced the risk of issues with walking by 85%, and reduced the complications with daily tasks by 45%. Among the adults who did not engage in the walking, 24% were walking too slowly to cross the street safely, and 23% had difficulty with morning routines.
Federal guidelines suggest older adults engage in 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week. That’s less than the 30 minutes per day recommended above.
Many patients who seek therapy for depression, as well as anxiety, are living very sedentary lives, with little or no physical movement, much less exercise. This is true for many people far less than 60 years old. Many studies have demonstrated that as little as 30 minutes of exercise per day, even walking, reduces depression, relieves anxiety, and helps stimulate therapeutic changes in brain chemistry. Often, one of the first efforts in psychotherapy is to encourage and then support a client’s becoming more physically active on a regular basis.
Alan M. Solomon, PhD. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310 539-2772 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2019 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.