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Regular walking routine can help people prevent falls

Walking is more beneficial if it is enjoyable. Pick paths that are safe and interesting and walk with those whose company you enjoy.  | Getty Images

Q: I hope that I can get you to help me with a little project. I am trying to get a walking club going.

Every morning, a number of our locals meet at coffee row in the one remaining coffee shop on the corner of Main and First. We do the usual there — bash the government, check up on the scores in old-timer’s hockey and raise money whenever someone from our little town is struggling.

I want to see us do more. I would like to see us doing what we can to look after ourselves better. And that brings me to our morning walks.

Wouldn’t it be great if, before we sat down for the long haul with our steaming coffee cups, we met and walked the path for half an hour to start the day?

I think that it would be good for us, we need the exercise, and I am hoping you can help me convince the others with this one.

Do you think that you could endorse our walking club?

A: I am more than happy to endorse any venture into exercise that you are encouraging in your community.

Let’s be clear about what you are trying to achieve with your walking club.

This is exercise for the sake of exercise alone. You are not likely to get into those huge muscle building routines you find in the gyms in the city. Those are not particularly helpful and for the most part not at all useful for the guys and gals on coffee row.

Your friends are probably a touch older. For them, exercise is a matter of survival. Some are struggling with arthritis, others with obesity and some are even challenged with issues in mental health, depression and anxiety. All the above can be helped by your daily exercise programs. You and your friends know that.

Now, I have another issue that walking clubs can address.

Falling is an issue for one out of three people older than 65. For many, a fall can be serious business. It might lead to an ambulance trip to the hospital, it could lead to major surgery and it could end up driving a person into a referral to a long-term care facility.

The sad part is that falling can often be prevented, its consequences mitigated and serious surgeries bypassed.

This is where your daily walks or other exercise programs come into play. They are the tools for prevention.

It’s commonly thought that the common causes for falling are slippery floors, scattered rugs or untidy piles stacked throughout walking paths in the house. This is true for about 20 percent of falls that debilitate the elderly.

It’s more likely for falls to be caused by people shuffling around instead of walking properly, unpredictable losses of balance (dizziness) and sudden or unexpected shifts in body weight and stumbling for sometimes unknown reasons. Here is where we find the merits for your walking club.

Regular walking means that you are likely walking with an appropriate gait, not a cumbersome shuffle, that you are more likely to keep your sense of balance and that the chances of stumbling are less. The more you commit to regular walks, the less likely you are to fall.

If you are able to get your walking club going, I hope you remember a couple of things. The first is that no one is running a marathon here. The walking club walks as fast as the slowest member. Some of your people might need a cane to support their walk, others might want to stabilize their balance by using walking sticks (similar to ski poles), maybe even some will need walkers.

Walking aids could slow things down and that is fine. The point is to do it, not to race.

The second point is that the walking exercise must be regular.

All of those wonderful benefits from a morning walk have pretty much dissipated by the following morning.

You have to start over the next day. That is what makes the whole thing wonderful and exciting.

Of course there will be long-term benefits, but they are not visible until you are well into your daily routines.

Finally, walking is more beneficial if it is enjoyable. Pick paths that are safe and interesting and walk with those whose company you enjoy.

Throughout this, know that you are doing your body a wonderful service.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com

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