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Senior Health

Mid-80`s: Pedometer and Walking?

07/27/2009

Question:

My mother is in her mid 80`s and quite healthy and active for her age. Her dr is nagging her to get a pedometer and walk 10,000 steps per day. She has always hated walking just for the sake of exercise and never has done that, not even when she was young. She has osteoporosis and has already had 1 fracture that laid her up for quite a while. I am concerned about this nagging of octogenarians to walk 10,000 steps per day and measure it with pedometers. Maybe if somebody that age had always been walking that much for exercise all along that would be fine. But I am afraid that nagging old people to walk that far every day even when they absolutely hate doing it is just more likely to lead to injuries. I mean, she`s not an experienced exercise walker although she can get around as needed in every day life just fine. But send her out into the street to walk a couple of miles per day when she (a) hates it, and (b) has never done that before in her life, and I`m afraid it will make her MORE likely to fall off a curb or step in a pothole or something and fall and experience a serious fracture. What are these doctors thinking? This woman is in her EIGHTIES. Are they going to be sending hundred-year-olds to the gym for appointments with personal trainers to try to develop washboard abs next?

Answer:

Activity and exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle as we all know. I could find no scientific basis for the recommendation of 10,000 steps per day for adults or older adults. The concept of using a pedometer and walking 10,000 steps a day for health and to achieve weight loss or maintain wellbeing has been around for years. Even though 10,000 steps a day is a high number for someone who is not used to it, the concept is that one "builds up to ever increasing steps" per day.

For someone who is not accustomed to walking, like your Mother, the idea would be to take it one day at a time, competing with oneself to get to the goal of 10,000 steps per day. But if your mother is not accustomed to walking and doesn't like walking as an exercise, it is not something that she will be motivated to do no matter who recommends it to her. However, daily exercise is beneficial to all, especially older adults as it helps with sleep, appetite, mood, bone strengthening (weight bearing), muscle strength and endurance, etc., and is highly recommended by health professionals.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention website indicates that older adults need to engage in some form of active, moderately intense exercise each day. Whether it is walking or other activity such as swimming, gardening, or activity of choice to maintain active life style and the benefits that accrue. Weight bearing exercise such as walking, gardening, or exercising with a Wii game (hooks up to the TV) that has bowling, tennis, and many other exercise options, helps to strengthen the bones and muscles, helping to reduce the affects of osteoporosis and other conditions. 

It seems that 10,000 steps a day is a recommendation that is helpful for many people and works for some. But your mother could benefit from other activities (as above, only a few suggestions), and a good resource would be to contact a physical therapist who is knowledgeable about older adults, perhaps at the local hospital, who may provide some consultation or refer you to someone to contact at your local Area Agency on Aging (in the phone book) for appropriate referral to help your mother choose an activity(ies) and exercises that suit her needs and condition.
 
Even though I don't foresee health professionals advising all people to get gym appts or personal trainers at 100 years old, there are some people who might wish to know their options so that they can make the decision for themselves. It's a matter of options and offering people different ways to meet their activity and exercise needs, a matter of motivation vs "nagging". 

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Response by:

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati