Treadmill Walking: Basic Program for Seniors

Seniors Can Build Fitness and Health on the Treadmill

Seniors Workout on the Treadmill
Seniors Workout on the Treadmill. Terry Vine/Creative RF/Getty Images

Walking on the treadmill is an excellent way for seniors to stay active. With 30 minutes a day of brisk treadmill walking, you can be well on your way to meeting the recommended daily physical activity to reduce your health risks and maintain fitness. Regular brisk walking is also part of the exercise plan for living with diabetesarthritis, and high blood pressure.

Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program if you haven't been exercising or you have health concerns.

Here is how to get started.

What Treadmill Should You Use?

You should use a treadmill that feels sturdy and doesn't have any wobble when you use it. If you use a treadmill at a gym or fitness center, they are likely to be of commercial grade and well-built. While a walking pace doesn't require as powerful of a motor as a running pace, your weight is also a factor. If you weigh over 200 pounds, you will still need a treadmill with a motor of higher horsepower. See more tips on buying a home treadmill.

Treadmill Workout Shoes and Clothing

You should wear athletic shoes when you walk on the treadmill. Your walking shoes should be flexible. Wear clothing that is loose enough so you can walk easily, but take care that the pant legs are not so long that they might catch in the tread of the treadmill.

Getting Started on the Treadmill

Take a few moments to get acquainted with the treadmill each time you use it, especially if you use more than one model at the fitness center.

See where the on/off control is and the emergency stop. Often there is a clip you should attach so that if you fall the treadmill will stop. Learn how to use the controls that increase and decrease the speed and incline.

Start the treadmill at a very low speed while you are not standing on it, then carefully get onto the treadmill and gradually increase the speed.

You can use the handrails for balance as you get onto the treadmill and while you are getting used to the speed of the belt.

Letting Go of the Handrails

If you normally use an assistive device for walking, you may need to use the handrails on the treadmill. You might discuss this with a physical therapist, your doctor, or athletic trainer to see if it's appropriate to try to walk hands-free.

Walking posture is very important for getting the most benefit from your treadmill workout. Holding onto the handrails throughout your workout can result in poor walking posture. You may even end up with more aches and pains due to this unnatural posture. It is fine to hold onto the handrail pulse sensor to do a heart rate check.

If you normally walk without an assistive device such as a cane or walker, you should walk on the treadmill without holding onto the handrails. Your treadmill walking should build your balance and stability for walking during your usual daily task. You won't build those skills if you hold onto the handrails through your workout.

It's best to walk at the speed where you can let go of the handrails rather than at a faster speed where you feel you must hold on. See  how to kick the treadmill-gripping habit

Treadmill Walking Workout for Seniors

Start with the treadmill at a slow pace while you get on. Adjust your posture as you start walking. You want to walk with an upright posture, not leaning forward. Suck in your gut and tuck in your butt.

Your chin should be parallel to the ground and eyes forward, focusing across the room. Roll your shoulders back and drop them to open up your chest so you can take full deep breaths. Bend your arms 90 degrees and let them swing naturally back and forth opposite of your stride.

Warm up for a couple of minutes at an easy pace before you increase the speed. If at first you can only walk at an easy pace the entire workout, that is what you should do. But if you can walk faster, gradually increase the pace at 0.5 miles per hour each minute until you reach a brisk walking pace where you can walk confidently but are breathing harder and even sweating. Those are good things, you are exercising your heart and lungs now, and sending more blood to your brain and all other parts of your body.

Maintain this speed for at least 10 minutes. If you find you are out of breath or a little unsteady, reduce the speed until you are more confident. After at least 10 minutes, reduce the speed to an easy pace for a cool down of two to three minutes.

Don't worry if your brisk walking pace seems slower than you would like. As long as you are breathing heavier, you are going fast enough to be at a moderate exercise intensity. If the treadmill has a pulse monitor, check it to see if you are between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Depending on your age, for seniors that is between 80 and 115 beats per minute. If you can pick up the pace enough to a vigorous level, that is also good.

Treadmill Walking Workout Plan for Seniors

The recommended amount of cardiovascular exercise for seniors over age 65 is 30 minutes per day, five days per week. If you can't do all 30 minutes in one session, it is permissible to break up that 30 minutes, but your exercise session should be at least 10 minutes long.

You should also do strength training exercise two to three days each week, with eight to 10 exercises. You can do this exercise on the same days you enjoy treadmill walking, or on alternate days. Try this 20-minute strength training workout for seniors or this dumbbell strength training workout for seniors.

You should also take 10 minutes extra on each exercise day to stretch your major muscle and tendon groups. If you are at risk for falls, you should include balance exercise three times per week.

Benefits of Treadmill Walking for Seniors

The good news is that walking on the treadmill regularly may also help you maintain your mobility and balance. You will be burning calories and keeping your metabolic rate boosted. This is part of a healthy weight management program.

Sources:

Berling J, Foster C, Gibson M, Doberstein S, Porcari J. "The effect of handrail support on oxygen uptake during steady-state treadmill exercise." J Cardiopulm Rehabil. 2006 Nov-Dec;26(6):391-4.

Colberg,S., et al. Special Communications: Joint Position StatementMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. December 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue 12 - pp 2282-2303 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181eeb61c

Nelson, M.E.; W.J. Rejeski; S.N. Blair; P.W. Duncan; J.O. Judge; A.C. King; C. A. Macera; and C. Castanedasceppa. "Physical Activity and Public Health in Older Adults: Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association." Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 39, No. 8, pp. 1435–1445, 2007.

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Chapter 5: Active Older Adults - 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines. https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter5.aspx

"Physical Activity and Blood Pressure," American Heart Association.

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