Safe practices for an ‘Awe Walk’ this fall and winter
Boost your physical health with a good walk. Boost your mental health with a safe “Awe Walk.”
Even as the weather changes, older adults who normally enjoy the outdoors can get the benefits of walking inside or outside. And researchers recently found you can maximize any walk by taking more moments to be “awed.”
Older adults who took a fresh look at world around them – in a way, “drank it in” – felt more upbeat and hopeful than people who didn’t take the moments to look around. The Awe Walk boosted their body and mind, according to research from Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, which was published by the American Psychological Association.
So it’s important to walk and be conscious of your surroundings – not just for safety’s sake, but also for mind-boosting benefits. Researchers also found it didn’t matter where older adults walked – in urban, suburban or rural areas. As long as they soaked in their surroundings, their moods were lifted.
It can work indoors, too. Older adults can try walking in malls, indoor tracks or on treadmills.
No matter how you exercise, safety is the most important part of any walking.
Here are several guidelines and tips for walking safely:
Get the right equipment
One of the best things about walking for exercise is you don’t need to invest much money in equipment. Sturdy sneakers that fit properly are any walker’s best friend. Older adults might want to visit a local sports or running store to get help with the proper fit. Also, wear durable socks that are a comfortable height for you – ankle, crew, mid-calf, knee.
Many experienced walkers and runners suggest sticking with a brand or style that fits well and remains comfortable. And experts recommend replacing sneakers after they’ve hit 500 miles – or every six months if you’re walking near an hour every day.
Plan for safety before you go
If you are headed for an outdoor walk, the National Institute on Health recommends you:
- Pack and carry an ID with emergency contact information, a small amount of cash and cell phone (but avoid talking on the phone so you stay alert to what’s around you)
- Keep the volume low if you wear headphones so you’re fully aware of your surroundings
- Let others know where you’ll walk and when you plan to be back
- Choose well-lit, well-traveled places
- Wear light or bright clothes in the day. If you can, avoid walking in the dark. If you do, wear reflective material and carry a flashlight
- In the fall, choose paths and routes that are free of fallen leaves, which can become wet and slippery, and
- In the winter, choose paths and routes that are free of snow and ice. In addition to plowed park paths and school tracks, you can often find dry, safe walking paths on college and corporate campuses.
Walk in urban areas
If you walk in urban or suburban areas, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Choose sidewalks or paved park paths if you can, as they’re more likely flat and maintained
- Cross at crosswalks or intersections only when you have the pedestrian crossing signal
- Make eye contact with drivers as they approach to be certain they see you and will stop, and
- Look left, right and left again across all lanes before crossing.
Walk in rural areas
If you walk in rural areas, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Choose routes with smooth, stable surfaces, preferably sidewalks or trails. No need to hit difficult hiking trails
- If you’re on sidewalks, watch for uneven surfaces, which are tripping hazards
- Choose routes with places to sit in case you want to stop and rest, and
- Walk facing oncoming traffic.
If you don’t have access to a treadmill, try walking videos, a local mall (many open early just for walkers, and require masks) or an indoor track (some colleges that are open for in-class instruction now allow the community to use them, and require masks). For safety indoors:
- Make sure the area around the treadmill or your television (if using a video) is clear of tripping hazards
- On a treadmills, you might try to keep it positioned to see outside a window to get the benefits of an Awe Walk, and
- Like the outdoors, when walking in public areas, stay alert by avoiding headphone and telephone use.
Safety tips for all walks
No matter where you choose to walk throughout the year, practice these important healthy habits:
- Stay hydrated. Drink water before, after and when possible, during the walk
- Dress properly. Wear layers so you can adjust, if necessary, while indoors or outside
- Get the pace right. One good test is to try to walk as fast as you can, while being able to chat with a friend. As long as you can speak comfortably, you should be in the right range, and
- Grab a friend. Ideally, join a walking group or get a friend to walk with you. It’s safer, and people are more likely to stick with their walking regimen if they have accountability buddies!
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