As we age, our ability to move about becomes increasingly important in maintaining our independence.
Being able to walk is often a determining factor in an older person’s ability to stay living at home – and a significant loss of mobility is often the trigger for more care or even a move into an aged care facility.
It is not just the physical loss of mobility that people experience as they age, but a loss of confidence in their mobility. The two are often closely linked and can exacerbate each other… a loss of confidence can lead to a loss in mobility, and with a loss in mobility comes a further loss in confidence.
Falls are frequently the cause of a loss in confidence, as they may lead to anxiety about moving around. It’s important to soon get moving again after a fall if there has been no serious injury.
Here are five tips to work on your mobility and improve your confidence with walking:
1. Make walking a regular component of your exercise program
Walking is a great form of exercise, so include it in your daily routine. If you’ve lost confidence in your walking ability, it’s not too late to build it back up again. Try starting with some short walks within a safe environment. Set up a chair somewhere in the house or garden and start with walking between one chair and another. Once you feel comfortable with that and want to try longer distances out of the house, plan a point that you aim to walk to and stick to that distance for a while before progressing further. Start on flat surfaces before progressing to sloping or uneven surfaces.
If you don’t have a lot of space, set a timer or watch the clock and walk around for a set time. Gradually build up the minutes that you are on your feet.
We build confidence through trying and succeeding, so aim small and then build up your walking distance gradually. Be patient with yourself and don’t rush the process! Progress takes time.
2. Include strength and balance exercises in your routine
One of the best ways to improve your walking ability is to strengthen the muscles that enable you to walk. We have some big muscle groups that are involved in propelling us forward, slowing us down, keeping us upright and enabling us to change direction.
Strengthening exercises for our legs are super-important in maintaining our walking ability and the stronger your legs are, the better your walking will be.
Examples of leg strengthening exercises include sit-to-stand exercises, squats, lunges and step-ups. Just as important, balance exercises help us move confidently and safely. Having an exercise program that addresses your strength and balance will ultimately help your mobility.
3. Address any factors that reduce confidence
Knowing WHY you don’t feel as confident with your walking is a key question that will help guide your way back to feeling confident on your feet again. If a loss of confidence began after a fall, address what the cause of the fall was.
If it was an external factor (like tripping over a rug in the house or slipping because of loose-fitting footwear), then make sure you have prevented the problem from happening again (removing the rug or replacing it with a non-slip solution; throwing out that old pair of shoes that don’t fit anymore).
If the cause of your loss of confidence is more from internal factors (like a decline in balance) then adding some balance exercises to your day can help you feel more confident on your feet.
Mindset is a really powerful thing, so address the fear and address the cause of your loss in confidence so you can focus on what you want to achieve.
Don’t be afraid to use walking aids – you may need them for only a short stint to get back on your feet, or in some cases, they may be the long-term solution in getting your confidence and mobility back. A physiotherapist can give you a professional opinion whether it is time for a walking aid, and which is the right one for you.
4. Set goals
We love setting meaningful goals at The Physio Co!
Having a goal helps to keep you motivated and helps you to focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. When you’re working on your goal, you’ll be spending more time thinking about achieving it, rather than worrying about your lack of confidence.
The body constantly adapts, learns and improves with practice, so focusing on what you want to achieve and how to get there will help you to progress past that loss of confidence.
Your walking goal might go something like this: “I want to be able to walk to the local café, so that when my granddaughter visits with her dog, we can walk the dog and go and have a coffee together.” This is a meaningful goal and if you think about that coffee with your granddaughter as you complete your exercise and walking practice, you have a greater chance of succeeding.
5. Get your family and friends involved
Tell your family and friends about your goals to improve your confidence and your mobility. That way, they’re more likely to do things that will help you to improve. When they take you shopping, they might add a short walk with you.
If you’re going out for lunch with friends, they might pick the local café so you can get a walk in rather than a car ride. Family are quick to help if they see you are moving slower or look like you’re struggling.
If they are aware that you are trying to improve your mobility, they’ll be more likely to let you try and do certain things on your own rather than rush in and do it for you. Your friends and family are your support circle, so make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to improving your mobility and confidence.
If you need more advice, would like some help with getting a tailored exercise program or walking program created, contact our team at The Physio Co. We specialise in physiotherapy for older adults and would love to help!
Article written by Kathy Soo (physiotherapist)