By Mike Festa, State Director, AARP Massachusetts
It’s New Year’s resolutions time. Health resolutions are always popular. One of the easiest ways to be healthier in the new year is to put one foot in front of the other and get moving.
Despite widespread understanding that exercise is beneficial to many aspects of good health, many adults 50-plus aren’t nearly physically active enough. Many fall short of the 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends. Many people are not even aware of that straightforward recommendation.
But while concrete recommendations haven’t reached many adults, most do understand the benefits of exercise. An AARP survey of adults 50 and older found that most agree walking is beneficial for improving physical, mental and brain health.
There’s science to back that up. Moderately paced walks stimulate the release of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, that is key to the survival of existing brain neurons and the generation of new ones. Participants who walked more than 4,000 steps per day had healthier brain tissue in the area responsible for memory, learning and cognitive function than those who did not, one study found.
At AARP Massachusetts, we know how important walking is. So, we teamed up with the nonprofit, Walk with a Doc. Last year, we started our monthly walking series in Worcester – in the winter, walking inside St. Vincent Hospital and in the summer walking in Elm Park. This year, we’re bringing the program to Boston as well. We’ll take a stroll or a brisk walk around Boston Common. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, we’ll move over to the Prudential Center.
Every walk starts out with a brief chat with a medical provider, talking about the physical and mental health benefits of walking and then enjoying a healthy walk at your own pace. You can ask some basic, general health questions, too.
We’re doing these walks on the first and second Saturdays of every month. People of all ages, fitness levels and backgrounds are welcome to these free, ongoing events. You just need to sign up beforehand. You don’t need to be an AARP member; you do need to register. We’ll be walking in Worcester on every first Saturday of the month; Boston every second Saturday. RAIN OR SHINE.
In too many communities, people can’t safely walk due to a lack of sidewalks, crosswalks or other safety features. AARP is working to change that. Last year, AARP Massachusetts funded walk audits in Dunstable, Lynn and Taunton. In Springfield, we worked with Walk Massachusetts to fund walk audit classes. A walk audit is a simple activity where you observe and evaluate the walkability and pedestrian safety of a location. The project ensures walking is safe, accessible and convenient — and to reverse the trends in pedestrian fatalities and injuries.
If you’re looking to get walking, AARP Massachusetts is here to help with our monthly walks in Worcester and Boston or we can help you make your community even safer to walk. You can find out more at aarp.org/ma.