Research by Iowa State kinesiology graduate Sarah Steege shows walking benefits seniors’ mental, social, and physical health.
It’s not news that inactivity increases your risk for poor health, particularly as you age. It contributes to everything from falls to disease to cognitive decline. The question is, if moving is so important to good health, why don’t more elders lace up their sneakers and go? New research by Iowa State kinesiology graduate Sarah Steege shows they might need different motivation.
Her research project, Walk With Ease, invited older adults to participate in a six-week program to document the benefits of walking. What Sarah found was both expected and surprising.
Improved quality of life
“We created a walking group for elders over 60 years old,” Sarah explains. “We walked together three times a week at the Ames City Hall Community Center gym, where parking was convenient and it wasn’t weather dependent.”
Researchers expected participants to be stronger by the program’s end. Before-and-after fitness assessments and testimonials confirmed that assumption.
“They said things like, ‘I can play with my grandkids better.’ ‘I’ve decreased the use of my cane.’ ‘My sciatic nerve pain is gone.’ And ‘I could walk around the State Fair for the first time in years.’”
But the subjects’ persistence and ultimate success sprang from another impetus.
“They may not have been the most motivated or physically active group to begin with, but the social environment made it fun,” Sarah says. “It was about building relationships.”
Improved quality of connection
Sarah says she has a more nuanced view of human nature after this project.
“Our goal was to have people learn the benefits of a simple exercise like walking, to help them see it benefits their emotional, mental, and physical health,” she says. “Exercise can be a prescription just like medicine. But that doesn’t translate to motivation. I couldn’t have learned that any other way than in this hands-on research.”
Now a newly minted Iowa State graduate, Sarah says she’ll take that wisdom with her into her physical therapy doctoral program this fall.
“I hope to join a practice, or maybe open my own,” she says. “I want to stay in Iowa, probably in a small town.”