It’s one of the most basic and simple things we can do: putting one foot in front of the other. Taking a step, then another one, and another, rotates the world under our feet, pulls the distance toward us, and brings a destination near. But a destination isn’t always needed. Just the act of walking itself—the motion, the head-clearing movements, the zen-like quality of our most basic motions—has enormous benefits, especially for older adults. As we get older, the weighted burden of physical limitations can seem constraining, and seem like they are shrinking the world. But they don’t have to. Walking can be incredible exercise, nourishing for the body, mind, and spirit. And, for older adults in the Bay Area, the natural beauty, progressive attitudes toward exercise, abundant public outdoor spaces, and a vibrant community of active older adults, means walking can be an act of introspective solitude or communal fun, your opportunity to connect with the world, with friends, and with yourself. It’s just a matter of taking that first step.
The Benefits of Walking for SeniorsIn 1955, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood became the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail—at the age of 67. It was an epic walk, and inspired people across the nation. But the truth is, you don’t need to walk across the country to be healthy. Any amount of walking has enormous benefits for older adults.
- Improves your circulation. Many seniors suffer from poor circulation, which can lead to a lot of complications—organ damage, strokes, heart disease, and sometimes lowered brain function. But walking is one of the best cures for poor circulation. It’s been shown to reduce blood pressure in postmenopausal women by 11 points in just a few weeks, and also lowered their risk of stroke by 20%.
- Increases muscle strength. Walking can make a person stronger and improve balance, both of which reduce the danger of falls. A bad fall can break bones or increase mental impairment, leading to reduced independence, but regular walking can help to prevent this.
- Is just as good as running. There are a lot of people who think that walking isn’t real exercise, but a study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that walking briskly is just as effective as running in reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
- Reduces pain. Walking can reduce the pain of arthritis, and other chronic geriatric pain. By strengthening abdominal and back muscles, it can also help to alleviate the lower back pain which plagues nearly 80% of the population.
- Increases lifespan. Studies have shown that walking as little as 75 minutes a week can add 1.8 years to a person’s life, and walking 450 minutes a week (or about 7.5 hours) can add between 4 and 5 years.
Hiking for Older Adults in the Bay AreaResidents of the Bay Area have always been very exercise friendly in a low-key way, as the proliferation of bike-riders proves. Maybe it’s the incredible beauty, or the thrust of jaw-dropping nature that crashes into the man-made scenery, but there’s something that just makes us want to get outside. That’s why it isn’t surprising there are dozens of walking clubs throughout San Francisco, including some especially for older adults. Many older adult exercise clubs and groups offer hiking and walking classes, in cities all over the Bay, from San Jose to Mountain View, Santa Clara to Los Gatos. But you don’t always need a group. Here are five area hikes that are easy, accessible, and still very healthy for aging adults.
- Pillar Point (San Mateo): This 1.2-mile hike takes you from the outskirts of Princeton Harbor down to the beach, and offers beautiful views of the coast, the bluffs, and the roaring shores. It’s an easy and pleasant walk with almost no elevation.
- Crissy Field (San Francisco): On this 3.3-mile, mostly level walk,you’ll pass by some of the most famous and scenic areas in the country, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point.
- Martin Luther King Jr Regional Shoreline (Oakland): A beautiful, and unexpected, 1.7-mile walk through the Oakland wetlands, a lesser-known natural area right off San Leandro Bay. You may see a variety of beautiful birds, including hawks, swallows, and egrets.
- Deer Island Open Space Reserve (Marin): Around the base of a hill that alternates from woody and secluded to wide open, this 1.8-mile loop has an elevation change of an easy, but hearty, 140 feet. This one is also great for bird watchers, as hawks have been seen all around it.
- Muddy Hollow (Marin): A much longer walk through the Point Reyes coastal scrub, this 7-mile walk might offer the opportunity to see wild elk, amazing flowers, or even hear the bark of sea lions. With an elevation shift of 700 feet, this is for people who are ready to push themselves.