Walking in Your Sixties for Good Health
Note of Caution
Before embarking on any type of exercise program, including walking, you should consult a physician and have a physical to evaluate your fitness. The importance of such a visit is to assess any limits to your beginning activity.
Certainty About the Distance You Walk
After a recent trip to California, my wife informed me that at 68 years of age I should be walking 10,000 steps a day for good health. My first reaction was to think about where that number came from. The next thought was that there must be a standard stride length. And then I found myself hoping there existed an inexpensive pedometer. Smartwatches are wonderful devices that track all sorts of things, but in general they are too expensive for this “mature” man.
An Auspicious Occasion
The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan was a time for several firsts. Until this Olympiad, tapes of the games had to be flown to countries prior to being aired on TV. The Tokyo summer games were the first to be broadcast internationally. Communication satellites sent signals to the United States and were then relayed to Europe. It was also the occasion of the first color coverage of some events. In addition to these firsts, the pedometer made its debut. In Japanese culture, 10,000 is a celebrated number and eye-catching, so when a local company produced a pedometer, it is speculated that for advertising purposes the notion of 10,000 steps took off.
10,000 steps translates to about 5 miles. In my particular instance, 10,000 steps translates to about 4.5 miles. While this is a useful distance to walk (I use it as my minimum daily walk), other variables need to be realized. If interested in reducing weight, you must know your caloric intake per day.
In my case, I am interested in strengthening my cardiovascular system and maintaining weight. You will need to record your food intake and its caloric value and then compare that with the calorie meter on a pedometer if weight is a concern. The subject of burning calories in a walking program needs to be discussed with your doctor who will also have information about calories in food.
In either case, I have found a useful and economical tool for doing that.
Retired and on a Budget
Many retirees on a fixed income understand how to budget – it’s a must. While there are many good tracking devices, the one I recommend is very reasonable in price. I found a Pingko pedometer on Amazon for $9.99. It is a simple device to learn and has everything that I need in my walking program. It comes in multiple colors and the reviews are good.
I like to clip it to my sock, the clip being very strong. It measures distance in miles and kilometers, and this is converted to steps at the push of a button. It also has a calorie counter that can be very useful. My Pingko has walked up and down mountains, hills, mining trails, and dirt roads without a hitch.
One thing that I noticed is that when you walk with it there is a very faint click. In the beginning, I sometimes thought that I was walking on the floors in my house with a small piece of sand stuck on my shoe sole. Double checking where I was walking revealed nothing on the floor, no cracked moving tile, and no debris on the laminate. Soon I realized that it was the faint noise of the counter on the pedometer. Now I don’t even notice it. This is just a heads up if you purchase one and get puzzled.
All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Step by Step
You will need to calibrate the pedometer by entering the size of your stride. Most adults have a 26 to 30 inch stride, women averaging 26 inches and men averaging 30 inches. Mine is 28 inches, but if yours differs from this, just enter your size. This information is stored in the pedometer and that number of inches is recorded as one step. The instructions for calibration are very easy to understand on the small leaflet provided.
The average person takes between 2,000 and 2,500 steps per mile walking counted by a pedometer or a fitness band.
If you want a ballpark idea of how many steps are in a mile, here is the conversion.
5280 feet = 1 mile.
5280 feet X 12 inches per foot = 63, 360 inches in a mile
Divide 63,360 by your stride length (mine is 28 inches) = 2263 steps per mile.
This corresponds to my Pingko pedometer. One more push of the button and that corresponds to 1 mile. I now have confidence in my tracker.
This provides a way to initially check your pedometer for accuracy.
Another way to check your walking stride is to go somewhere you are sure of the distance you will be traveling. I like to go to a high school and use the 440 yard track (quarter mile). Count your steps from start to finish. Twenty steps is a minimum for relative accuracy. There are 15440 inches in a quarter mile. Divide the distance by the number of steps. That’s your stride length.
Since you traveled 1/4 mile, multiply the steps you counted above by 4 to get steps per mile.
Personal Journey and Advice From a Sexagenerian
Like many of the male readers out there, I was an active youth. I competed competitively in swimming for 11 years. On top of that I ran cross country and track in high school for 4 years. When I wasn’t doing that, I was frequently working or wandering around in the Arizona desert.
The peace of the desert was always so inviting, but I never really analyzed its allure. To feel the coolness of a wisp of wind on your sweaty face is uplifting. The desert doves cooing in the morning as they search for food, and the rustle of coin-shaped leaves in the cotton woods near a sandy wash can be almost hypnotizing. Of course there was school and studying, but this is the context in which I lived until I was 19 years old.
When I joined the U.S. Navy in 1969, my routine changed. Once basic training was over, I spent my work days in an office. After work I would go to town on a bus or stay on base and use facilities there for entertainment. My level of activity dropped immensely. I was aware that I wasn’t feeling quite as well as I used to, but was not deep in thought about why.
One day a friend asked if I would like to help one of his associates who was building a large home. He needed huge green timbers moved from one spot on his property to a point close to the walls of the building. The following day construction workers were coming and were going to hoist these girders on top of the walls. Volunteer friends and I would be rewarded with a steak lunch, and of course, some cold beer.
We probably worked about 1 1/2 hours to complete the task. We all sat around a grill on big boulders, and with my friends laughing and threatening to take the steaks if the cook didn’t hurry up, I had an epiphany.
My mood was better, the sound of the steaks snapping on the grill was intense, the smell of steak smoke wafting by my face was wonderful, I was enjoying the camaraderie more, and I had a sense that all was right with the world. Even though all was not right in the world in 1969, I had achieved a modicum of peace. But why?
Your Body Was Meant to Move
It was the activity. From then on I walked to town and gave up the bus. I believed that something was abnormal about me since it seemed I needed a lot of physical activity. But the epiphany was that I could control my mood and make my body feel better by walking or running. And, I no longer cared about the possibility of being abnormal because I had a measure of control over my well-being. At 19, I mused that I had discovered an unauthorized secret.
A brisk walk is better than a slow walk, but realize that any increase in walking is better than the alternative. When I walk my five miles, I do a brisk walk for the first, normal for the second, brisk for the third, normal for the fourth, and brisk for the last. You can check your pedometer to make sure you are changing at the right point.
The National Walker’s Health Study after thousands of participants were followed revealed an interesting finding. Those who walked slowly at about 2 miles per hour averaged an earlier death. Those moving more sprightly at 4 miles per hour lived longer. Slower movers were 18% more likely to die of heart disease and/or dementia.
A Duke University study in 1999 showed that 40 minutes of moderate exercise, three to five days a week, produced endorphins that diminish pain while exercising, decrease stress, give a post-exercise high, decrease appetite, and improve your immune system.
The same study showed serotonin is released during exercise and decreases symptoms of depression.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is also released during exercise. It also reduces symptoms of depression and improves brain health and memory.
The Evidence Is In
A plethora of studies show that walking and movement in general is good for your health. It helps in so many ways that if there is a panacea for good health, exercise is it.