Question: I know walking is great for everyone, including seniors, but when does it pose more risk than it’s worth? I worry my dad will fall or overexert himself and don’t know if I should find other ways to get him physical activity.
Answer: When it comes to being cautious about your dad’s safety and ability when walking, know that walking is one of the best and safest physical activities he can do. If he begins to show signs of weakness, imbalance and/or exhaustion, then it would be time to consider a mobility aid (e.g., cane, walker) or a companion to walk with him. In the meantime, if he’s still capable of walking without assistance, encourage him to do so!
Any movement is better than none
Physical activity is a vital component for optimal healthy aging. As we age, the amount of time being sedentary also increases. As stated in kinesiology, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Along with the weakness that comes from physical inactivity also comes the increased risk for chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that walking speed predicts the life expectancy of older adults; hence, those who walk at a decent speed as they age are likely to outlive those who slow down or stop walking altogether. Along with socialization, countless research has proven physical activity to be a prominent marker in happiness, health and longevity.
Walking is a universal, no-cost activity most people can do even with rest breaks. It improves commonly affected social determinants of health such as loneliness, depression and isolation.
Why inclusion and communication matter
In my experience as a geriatric kinesiologist and founder of Walk with Pop, I’ve found that communicating with your loved ones about their activity and health status cultivates the best results for everyone involved. I understand your concern and worry about potential risks for your dad, and it’s why I am here to offer encouragement in expressing your feelings to him.
Communicating with your loved ones about their activity and health status cultivates the best results for everyone involved.
One study found that older adults are more likely to agree with a new change when they’re included in the process. The chances of more resistance come up when programs or products are thrust upon a loved one, such as a new mobility aid or restrictions on a former activity.
Older adults are more likely to agree with a new change when they’re included in the process.
The same is true with health regimes: As a caregiver, we want the best for our parents, but if we truly want the best for them, we must include them in the selection process instead of choosing what we feel is best for them.
It’s important to communicate with your dad about safe walking habits to reduce risks and give you more peace of mind. Set time aside to create a plan with him that eases your mind when he’s out on a walk.
Here are a few questions to pose:
- “If you are feeling overexerted or have a fall, will you have your phone on you? What about a medical ID bracelet or your general ID? How will someone be able to help you and identify you in a worst-case scenario?”
- “How will you carry water with you? Are you open to wearing a hat?”
- “Would you like company? How can we make this activity safe and enjoyable for both you and me?”
These questions can serve as jumping-off points for the conversation to be had with your dad. It’s important you allow him to share with you his needs and preferences while making compromises for your own sanity.
Alternatives in the worst-case scenario
As mentioned before, whenever an individual begins to show signs of weakness, imbalance and exhaustion during movement, it may be time to consider assistance or slowing down. Mobility aids such as walkers are a great option to consider for extra stability and security. Should it ever get to the point where walking is absolutely unsafe, then home physical therapy may be another option to keep him active and mobile.
Remember that your dad is his own individual human with autonomy. While we want to protect our loved ones from risk and injury, sometimes our best intentions can feel daunting to them. Thus, be sure to ask your dad his perspective and thoughts to work through the concerns together. With communication, I’m confident all parties will feel happier and more confident.