There's no doubt that staying active is vital for people of all ages. But fitness for seniors in particular means being able to live life more fully, regardless of your age. Exercise can maintain (or build up) the level of strength needed to keep you independent, give you more energy to do the things you want to do, improve flexibility and balance to help you avoid falls, forestall heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis among other diseases and help you maintain a positive outlook and avoid depression.
Of course, one type of exercise alone can't achieve all these goals—building strength takes a targeted workout, and flexibility often requires a different kind of physical activity, such as stretching or yoga. But overall conditioning can start with simple movement, like walking.
You may be surprised to learn that the average adult should be taking about 10,000 steps a day, from focused walking as well as from regular activities of daily living, like cooking and other chores. Children may require even more steps a day while seniors and those with certain health conditions may not need or be able to reach as many. You may be even more surprised by how few or how many steps you're actually taking. How can you find out without counting every step yourself? The easiest way to measure your daily steps is with a pedometer, a great fitness device for seniors and people of all ages. A pedometer is a simple, inexpensive motion sensor that you wear to track and assess your physical activity as well as motivate you to do more. One example is the Mini Calorie Pedometer, a small and lightweight device that tracks your distance in miles or kilometers with a step counter to help monitor your every move—it easily clips to a waistband or belt. Other features include a calorie calculator, a stopwatch and real time clock setting, plus it comes with a replaceable LR44 battery.
Wearing your pedometer allows you to get a "baseline," the number of steps you're taking a day on a regular basis. Once you know how many steps you're already logging, you can use your pedometer to motivate you to move more and to track your daily totals. By recording your step total in a journal or on a chart at the end of every day, you can follow your progress and start to look for ways to build up your number.
Finding & Reaching Your Target Number of Steps
Researchers from Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA have suggested an index to quantify exercise levels in healthy adults:
- Less than 5,000 steps/day: sedentary
- 5,000 to 7,499 steps/day: low active
- 7,500-9,999 steps/day: somewhat active
- 10,000 steps/day: active
- More than 12,500 steps/day: highly active
The reality is that many people, young and old, are missing the mark for being active. According to the researchers, healthy older adults average 2,000-9,000 steps/day and people living with a disability or a chronic illness that limits their mobility or physical endurance average about 1,200-8,800 steps/day. Both groups can benefit from practicing a more physically active lifestyle, typically by walking more. They found that using a pedometer led to increases of approximately 775 steps/day and 2,215 steps/day in the two groups respectively.
They also suggest setting a walking target: Aim to walk for a total of 150 minutes each week. The best news? You can do it 10-minute bouts of moderate intensity (such as 100 steps a minute for those who are able)—that's above and beyond the steps taken for daily living activities. Those 15 mini fitness sessions will add about 15,000 steps to your total over the course of each week and, for many, when added to the steps of daily living activities, would be the equivalent of taking about 7,000-10,000 steps/day. So strap on a pedometer and get started—remember, all you need to do once you've gotten your doctor's OK, is just put one foot in front of the other and repeat!