Walking Your Way to a Healthier You

December 1, 2014 | Found In:  Healthy Body

imagesIn the past, we featured the work of Dr. Laura L. Carstensen, professor of psychology at Stanford University, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, and a leading expert on aging and longevity. For more than twenty years her research has been supported by the National Institute on Aging, and she has received numerous awards and honors including the Distinguished Career Award from the Gerontological Society of America. Her research is so revolutionary to how our society views aging and longevity that we felt compelled to share some of her recent findings with our readers.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Psychology and Aging, Dr. Carstensen and lead author Dr. Nanna Notthoff, a postdoctoral fellow at the Humboldt University in Germany, explored the role of positive messaging in promoting walking among older adults. The research was spurred by the realization that despite being one of the most cost-effective and accessible modes of exercise linked with cognitive and physical independence in old age, many older adults do not meet the daily recommendations for walking (the World Health Organization recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, like brisk walking, 5 days per week).

In line with Dr. Carstensen’s previous research on the age-related positivity effect, this study showed that older adults who were told about the benefits of walking (rather than the negative consequences of not walking) were more likely to walk. Thus, older adults may be more receptive to and motivated by positively framed messages focused on the benefits of a given behavior rather than negative messages focused on the consequences of not engaging in a behavior. The findings are especially important for care providers and family members hoping to inspire loved ones to walk more.

One real-world example of this positive framing of walking comes from the Columbus, Ohio office of international leading home care provider Home Care Assistance. Last winter, the office launched an innovative and successful campaign called “Walk to Okinawa,” which invited registrants, who all received free pedometers, to track their steps each day as the entire group made its way from Columbus, Ohio to Okinawa, Japan in a 7,500-mile virtual walk. The “destination” — Okinawa — was chosen because it is home to the healthiest and longest-living people on Earth. Home Care Assistance’s Balanced Care MethodTM seeks to capture some of the lifestyle factors that go toward creating such long-lived and healthy people including regular physical activity, healthy eating, mental stimulation, socialization and purposeful activities. All of this information was shared with the community with the aim of promoting healthy independence and encouraging participants to strive for optimal quality of life by adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors like regular walking.

Combining Drs. Notthoff and Carstensen’s research described above and the aforementioned Home Care Assistance campaign can be the key to truly effective and lasting heath behavior change: positive messaging coupled with incentives and tools (e.g., pedometers) to track the healthy behavior target can really motivate older adults to make a commitment to incorporating a healthy exercise regimen into their daily lives.

What would help to motivate you to stay active and fit with daily walking?

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