A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that women who are physically active during middle age are more likely to have a healthy mind and body at age 70.
Researchers looked at data from more than 13,000 generally healthy women who took part in the Nurse's Health Study. In 1986, these women answered questions about their physical activity levels. On average, they were 60 years old.
During the next 14 years, the women provided information about any chronic diseases they developed. They also underwent physical, cognitive, and mental health assessments until the end of the study.
Women were considered "successful survivors" if they were alive and free from the following health problems during the study period:
To find out if physical activity was linked with successful survival, women were grouped into five activity levels and compared with those who were the least active. Women in the least active group spent less than one hour per week doing light activity, such as walking at an easy pace.
The study showed that women who were more physically active had better odds of being healthy at age 70. In fact, the odds for being a successful survivor were nearly double for the most active women. These women got the equivalent of at least 3.3 hours per week of vigorous activity, such as jogging, biking, or swimming.
But even moderate-intensity activity, such as walking, was linked with successful aging. Women who walked the equivalent of at least two hours at a modest pace each week had 50 percent higher odds to be successful survivors than those who walked the least.
In fact, the more time spent walking and the faster the pace, the better the odds were of staying healthy. Those who walked at a moderate pace were almost twice as likely to be healthy at age 70 as those who walked at an easy pace. Those whose pace was brisk were almost three times as likely to be successful survivors.
A pace below 2 miles per hour (mph) was considered easy. A moderate pace was 2 to 2.9 mph, and a brisk pace was at least 3 mph.
Many women walk for exercise. It's a great way to stay fit because you can do it anywhere and it's inexpensive. Here are some tips to help you hit the pavement:
Keep it safe. Bring a friend along or walk with a group. Wear a reflective vest or bright colors when walking at dusk, dawn, or night. You can even let your local police department know your walking time and route.
Start slowly. Gradually work up to walking at least 30 minutes on most days. Each time you walk, warm up for five minutes by walking slowly. Then, pick up the speed until your heart is beating faster and your lungs breathing deeper. Finally, cool down by walking slowly for another five minutes.
Calculate your pace. To figure out your walking pace, divide your distance walked in miles by your time spent walking in hours. For example, your pace would be 4 mph if you walked 2 miles in 30 minutes (2 miles ÷ 0.5 hrs = 4 mph).
For a brochure about how to start a walking program, call the Weight-control Information Network at 877-946-4627 or select the link below.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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Step right up. Walking has many health benefits. But several common mistakes could stop you in your tracks.
1. Wearing old or ill-fitting shoes. Replace old walking shoes after about 300 hours of use. Look for shock absorbency in the heel and the ball of the foot, as well as a flexible sole. Your shoes will last longer if you buy two pairs and alternate them.
2. Dressing for the wrong occasion. Dress in layers that you can remove as you warm up. Synthetic socks wick sweat away from hot feet. If you're stepping out, don't forget sunscreen, bug repellant, and a hat.
3. Weighing yourself down. Leave those ankle and wrist weights at home. They can change the way you walk and upset your balance. But consider carrying a pedometer. Several studies show that it could spur you to take more steps each day. In fact, one report showed that pedometer users increased their daily steps by more than 2,000. That's about one mile of walking.
4. Marching like a soldier. Bend your arms at the elbow and swing them naturally to boost your stride. Keep your chin up and your shoulders slightly back. Your heel should touch the ground first; then, roll your weight forward.
5. Getting dried out. Drink enough water -- about 8 to 12 ounces every 30 minutes -- while walking.