The Hamilton Spectator

Walking can be the key to women aging well


I walked about 13 kilometres on the Georgian Trail between Thornbury and Meaford, Ont., near the coast of Georgian Bay last year, just as we were heading into winter.

The trail was created along an abandoned railway line and is now dedicated to those wishing to hike and bike in the summer, and to snowshoe and crosscount­ry ski in the winter.

I had often heard about the trail, but had never taken advantage of it. So, when my daughter came home for a visit, we decided that this was the time.

As a geriatrici­an and researcher, I have become increasing­ly interested in what women can do to age well. While no single activity is going to ensure health and well-being with age, evidence suggests that incorporat­ing walking into your routine is a simple and effective way to increase your social contacts and physical activity.

Both infrequent social contact and physical inactivity and have been identified by in the Lancet Commission­s report on dementia prevention, interventi­on and care as modifiable risk factors for dementia. Dementia is a chronic condition that is more common in women than men.

Yet women around the world do less aerobic activity than men. It is estimated that about 32 per cent of women are physically inactive compared to 23 per cent of men, likely due in part to gender-related sociocultu­ral factors. Inactivity increases with age, making it doubly important to encourage older women to be active.

When going for a walk, I personally find it motivating to have a purpose and a destinatio­n. In this case, the purpose was time for social connection and the destinatio­n was the next town. Though often the enticement for the walk is much simpler: to get some physical activity, some fresh air and to pick up a coffee at a local café.

This particular trail runs through apple orchards, into woods, and crosses a stunning blue clay river gorge. While it took hours to walk the distance, the drive back along the highway was done in minutes, where the things we noticed, talked about and paid attention to went by in a flash, and were virtually unnoticed.

While committing to a 13-kilometre walk takes a bit of planning, it is quite manageable for a healthy individual. On average, people walk 1.5 kilometres in about 20 minutes. The time to walk a distance, of course, depends on the terrain. A walk like this one, which is quite flat, can be done in a few hours.

A long walk also offers the perfect opportunit­y to talk. My daughter is a graduate student living in the Netherland­s, and she’s only home for short visits typically packed with family events, so it is often hard to find the occasion to share quality time.

Walking means uninterrup­ted time together, to share personal thoughts, discuss meaningful events in our lives, and to experience the joy of casual observatio­ns of the landscape.

Coupled with the crisp air and the wonderful exhilarati­on that comes from a long walk, it was without doubt a highlight of our visit together.

The opportunit­y for one-onone social contact time that we so seldom have, combined with physical activity, was much needed.

Walking is the perfect prescripti­on for healthy aging. It is a great way to create and reinforce social connection­s, it’s good for your physical body and contribute­s to brain health. So, what are you waiting for? Go for a walk.

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