By the time you’re a senior, you’ve probably heard the recommendation to exercise regularly thousands of times. If you haven’t managed to make a work out routine part of your life by now, it may feel like it’s helpless to try now, but it’s not.
Committing to regular exercise only becomes more important in your senior years, it can help ward off a lot of the illnesses and injuries seniors commonly have to worry about. And you don’t have to do intense cardio or weight training to get some of those benefits; you can get a lot of committing to daily walks*.
Most of the excuses you can think of to avoid daily exercise go out the window when we’re just talking about a 20-30 minute walk each day – especially once you’ve learned about all the benefits daily walks can bring for your muscles, circulation, joints, and mood. But one excuse may still plague you: the concern about safety.
By taking a few proactive steps, you can vastly reduce any risk associated with taking a daily walk. Here’s how you do it.
- Check the weather before you go.
You don’t want to be caught in a thunderstorm unprepared, or find yourself overdressed and without water in 90° heat. To make sure you dress properly and are prepared for the weather you’ll face, take 30 seconds to check the day’s weather before you leave. Now and then, the weather will be bad enough to make it worth skipping your walk that day, but most days it will simply give you a head’s up so you know how to be prepared for what’s expected.
- Wear sunscreen.
On sunny days, get sunscreen on before you head out. This will both keep you from dealing with a dreaded sunburn and aid in skin cancer prevention. As an added bonus, it can also slow the look of aging on your skin, if that’s something that matters to you.
- Take water
Staying properly hydrated is extremely important, especially during the summer when heat stroke is a risk. Grab a water bottle holder that makes it easier to take water with you while you walk and be sure to remember to grab it each time you go out.
- Take a phone so you don’t get lost and can call for help if needed.
Who knows how we ever got help in moments of emergency before cell phones, but there’s no reason to take the risk of getting stuck hurt a few minutes from your house with no easy way to get home or call for help. Stick your phone in your pocket before you leave. If you have a smartphone, as an added bonus, you’ll have GPS to help direct you home if you get lost.
Do be careful not to be messing with your phone while you walk, since distracted walking presents its own risks. But do have it on you in case you sprain an ankle or can’t seem to find your home street.
- Wear good shoes
The wrong shoes will leave you with blisters and pain on your walk. You need something comfortable that provides enough support for your feet. If you don’t already own a good pair of shoes for walking, go ahead and make an investment. The cost will pay off in the health benefits you get from taking regular, safer walks.
- Know your limits – don’t stray too far.
You don’t want to find yourself stuck an hour’s walk away from home and feeling too exhausted to get all the way back. Pay attention to how far you’re walking on the first leg of your walk so you don’t stray too far, and get to know the streets close to your home. Take advantage of blocks and side streets to get a good walk in without having to go too far, and don’t push yourself too hard when you’re just starting out.
Everything else on this list matters, but none of it is about a risk that has stakes as high as the possibility of getting hit by a car on your walk. Stick to sidewalks where they’re available and walk facing traffic when they’re not. Try to cross the street at intersections where cars will be more likely to be looking out for pedestrians and, of course, always look both ways before crossing the street.
- If you go out at night, wear bright colors or a reflective vest.
Nighttime walkers should always dress to make themselves easier for drivers to see. Reflective clothing is ideal, since it will definitely ensure you stand out. But if you don’t have any reflective clothing yet, stick with white or another light color that will be easier for people to see in the dark.
- If you wear headphones, keep the volume low enough so you can still hear cars.
Some people like listening to music or podcasts while on a walk, which is fine – unless you keep it so loud that you won’t hear any cars coming up behind you. To stay more aware of your surroundings, make sure you only listen to headphones if you know you’ll also be able to hear other noises as well, and keep the volume at a safe level.
- If you’re comfortable with smartphone apps, check out some of the safety apps.
If you own a smartphone, there are a number of apps that can help make you safer on your walks by making it easier to call for help if you encounter a problem. Some also track your GPS location as you walk so it’s easier for loved ones to find you if you do have a problem and need to call for help. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use any safety app you download, but having one can help you feel (and be) just that much safer.
- Carry a noise alarm.
If you’re worried about the possibility of being robbed or attacked on a walk, carrying a portable alarm that makes a loud noise if you choose to use it can be a way to deter potential thieves. Again, this is the kind of thing you may not ever need to use (and hopefully won’t), but having it can add just a little extra edge of protection to your walking experience.
- Carry pepper spray and/or animal deterrent spray.
As yet another form of protection, you can buy either pepper spray to use in defense if someone attacks you and animal deterrent spray to use if an aggressive dog or other animal crosses your path. These are good tools for slowing an aggressor down without doing any permanent damage to them, but keep in mind that pepper spray is very painful and you want to be careful to only use it in a scenario where it’s merited.
Taking daily walks can add so much to your life. If gives you a reason to get out of the house, makes you healthier, and provides an opportunity to enjoy nature. Don’t let fear keep you from enjoying all that. Take the precautions you need to feel safe and start making daily walks a part of your life.
*For seniors with disabilities or mobility issues that make walking unsafe, the advice in this post simply doesn’t apply. Stick with exercises and activities your doctor recommends as safe.