Companion walking is the secret to helping older adults move more.

image of woman helping a senior woman walk outside
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A 92-year-old woman who lived in an assisted living community sat next to her window every day, watching other residents go in and out on permitted outings.

She used a walker to get around but mostly stayed in her window, anticipating that she would be allowed to go outside.

Suddenly, a friendly knock on the door came from. Are you awake, Mrs. Edna? I will take you for a walk. My name is Mercedes. I am a fitness trainer. Is it possible that I come in?

The family of Edna wanted one of the trainers to help her get active. It was a dream that had come true.

The fitness routine was open for interpretation. After attempts with resistance bands and light weights, Edna and I decided walking outside was much more fun and beneficial.

We walked twice a week. As we became friends, and started to have a meaningful connection, Edna began going up hills on her own with her walker. She was looking forward to that knock on her door every week.

The misconception is that harder is better. It is not true for an older adult population.

Ever wonder why every part of your body suddenly started to hurt around age 30? As the human body ages, our structure naturally becomes more fragile (1).

As you age and get injured, your body needs more tune-ups to keep it in top shape.

In my experience as a geriatric kinesiologist and founder of Walk with Pop, a gentle approach to exercise for seniors is far more beneficial than heavy lifting. One fitness style does not fit all!

The children of aging parents want to hire a personal trainer, but they should be careful. Senior fitness is a small niche and it is important to vet the trainer to make sure they have the knowledge and skill set for working with older adults.

Older age has been associated with more sedentary time, as evidenced by Edna and her window daydreaming. Conclusive research has discovered that older adults spend up to 80% of their waking day not moving, with sedentary time increasing with age (2).

Physical activity is a vital component of optimal healthy aging and even decreases mortality rates in older populations (3).

Nearly 60% of adults who are inactive are more likely to report at least one of four chronic conditions (heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer) than their physically active counterparts (1).

If that weren’t enough, research indicates that walking speed often predicts the life expectancy of older adults. Those who walk at a decent speed as they age are likely to outlive those who slow down or stop walking altogether (3, 4).

But it can be difficult to inspire movement in an aging population because muscle mass and strength decline with age, making former activities newly challenging (5).

I understand the desire to get Mom, Dad, or Grandma and Grandpa out of the house. I have been there, and I have pulled my hair out trying to teach my older loved ones to exercise, even as a skilled personal trainer for seniors!

“Companion walking is an easy solution that people don’t always consider.”

I found walking to be a universal activity that older adults were all capable of doing.

All bodies are unique with different types of injuries and chronic conditions. One older adult may be able to sustain a 15-minute cardio exercise program, while another may only be able to stand up from a chair 5 times in a row.

Yet walking is a universal, no-cost activity that most people can do, even if they need rest breaks. Walking together not only creates safety but also improves commonly affected social determinants of health such as loneliness, depression, and isolation (6).

Research published in the Journals of Gerontology affirms that adults who are more socially connected and engaged are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers (6).

Meanwhile, those with minimal to low socialization are more likely to die earlier (7).

I want you to take away from this article the fact that there is a simple solution to keeping your aging loved ones healthy, happy, and mobile.

It’s not necessary to stress over finding a personal trainer or exercise class that may actually do more harm than good.

Booking a walk for your elderly loved ones with a trained companion is one way to help them lead a more active life.

Walk with Pop is a service that helps older adults get outside for a walk with a new friend. Older adults are matched with trained companions to walk and talk in the neighborhood.

With the social benefits of companion walking, especially after a daunting pandemic, lives can be prolonged.

You should try to walk or book a walk for your loved one once or twice a week. If you feel they need more support, you should seek out an experienced trainer.

They may be like Edna, dreaming of and looking forward to that walk. I believe walking extended the life of Edna to 97 years.

Mercedes Fernandez is a geriatric kinesiologist and the founder of Walk with Pop. She helps older adults feel included and connected with others through companion walking. She holds a master’s degree in kinesiology with an extensive pre-medical background in psychology, anatomy, and nutrition. She is a certified senior fitness instructor and authorized CPR/First Aid responder under the American Red Cross. In addition to her professional experience, Mercedes was her grandfather’s primary caregiver, enriching her personal experience of senior healthcare. Her deeply rooted passion to serve older adults began at an early age, as she played piano at nursing homes at age 8. Today, Mercedes continues to have deep care and compassion for the older adults for whom she advocates.