There was no nearby walking path and the ground near the family’s Michigan vacation home was too sandy to easily navigate, but Joe Wanner was not deterred.
He measured the length of the wraparound porch — 110 feet — and walked 50 laps a day to get in his daily one-mile walk while he was on vacation this summer.
At 101 years old — soon to be 102 — Wanner wasn’t about to take a vacation from fitness. The Bethany Village resident walks a mile every day and also works out in the retirement community’s fitness center three afternoons a week.
“Joe is always doing something active,” said Bethany Village exercise physiologist Craig Cole. “He is a source of motivation to the other residents, he’s a source of motivation to me.”
Despite being the oldest resident to regularly use the community’s fitness center, Wanner is modest about his fitness accomplishments.
“I never tried to be a muscleman, I just like to be physically fit,” said Wanner, who retired from Delco 36 years ago. “It’s always been a part of my life.”
But seniors aren’t the only ones who can reap the benefits of walking.
“From the day we first start walking until we can’t do it any more, walking is great exercise,” Cole said.
Take a walk
Walking is a gentle, low-impact, safe and simple form of cardiovascular exercise. It’s a weight-bearing exercise that is easy on the joints and helps maintain bone density — a great way to get in the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
“Walking provides a good cardiovascular workout without the need for expensive equipment,” Cole said. “It also improves endurance and balance and can help people lose weight.”
It has helped keep Wanner, who suffered a stroke four years ago, up and about — which is not always the case as people age.
“To be able to stand up and get out of a chair under one’s own power is one of the things that people lose the ability to do as they get older,” Cole said.
There can also be social benefits if you walk with friends. And getting outside and taking in the scenery can also result in an improved overall sense of well-being.
“I’m slow as molasses at times but it keeps my body in shape and I feel good when I’m doing it,” Wanner said.
While you can walk just about anywhere, there are a few considerations before starting a walking regimen.
Start with a well-fitted pair of walking shoes with a flexible sole, good arch support and adequate cushioning for your heel. Wear comfortable weather-appropriate clothing and, if necessary, a hat or apply sunscreen.
Keep safety in mind. Does your neighborhood have sidewalks? Is the area well lit? If not, you might want to find a neighborhood facility, like a park, school or mall, where you can walk safely.
For beginners, think flat terrain; you can work up to hills.
And don’t overdo it.
“If you have been relatively inactive, try to walk every other day for 20-30 minutes to get used to it,” Cole said. “Try to work up to every day.”
More experienced walkers can vary their routes and increase their pace and distance to provide a greater challenge.
“When you go out walking, walk with a purpose,” Cole said. “Whether it’s to lose weight, improve your endurance or get in shape, walking can help you reach your goal.”
Benefits of walking
From the American College of Sports Medicine:
• Reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity
• Works several major muscle groups – the knee extensors (quadriceps), hip extensors (hamstrings and gluteal muscles) and muscles of the lower legs. These muscles help pump blood back to the heart, and exercising them improves circulation, muscular endurance and dynamic balance.
9 tips to perfect your walking form
From the American Council on Exercise
1. Stand up tall. Imagine that a wire attached to the crown of your head is gently pulling you upward. Walking erect will keep you moving at a brisker pace.
2. Keep your eyes on the horizon. This will help you to stand taller and avoid stress on your neck and low back.
3. Lift your chest and tighten your abs. Using muscles in the front of your body to straighten up will take pressure off your back.
4. Bend your arms. You’ll be able to swing your arms faster, which helps increase your speed. It also prevents swelling caused from blood pooling in your hands as you walk longer distances.
5. Relax your shoulders. Your arms will swing more freely, and you’ll avoid upper back and neck tension.
6. Maintain a neutral pelvis. Don’t tuck your tailbone under or overarch your back.
7. Keep your front leg straight but not locked. You’ll have a smoother stride and be able to propel yourself forward more easily.
8. Aim your knees and toes forward. Proper alignment will reduce your chances of injury.
9. Land on your heel. This facilitates the heel-to-toe walking motion that will carry farther and faster than if your foot slaps down on the ground with each step.
Tips to keep you walking
From exercise physiologist Craig Cole:
Spread your walking evenly throughout the week. Try to walk at least three days a week if you can’t walk daily. Each week, add a few minutes to your walk.
Set personal goals and when you reach these milestones (distance or amount of time walked) reward yourself.
Keep track of your progress with a walking journal or fitness log.
Find a walking partner to help motivate you and vise versa.