PUMPING IRONY: The Walking Dread

For geezers like me, certain types of walking can be more hazardous than others.

On the “dreadmill”: safer than crossing the street?

I’m not what you would call an avid walker. I’ll trek to and from the office a mile away every winter, once the first big snowfall makes bicycling too treacherous, but that’s due more to my aversion to lingering at bus stops in sub-zero weather than a delight in high-stepping through snowdrifts and sliding across sidewalk ice. And I’ve been known to occasionally hike one of the trails that ambles along the river near my house. But I avoid the dreadmill at the gym, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who’s ever pushed the “start” button and wondered what’s going to happen next.

Fall Risks

If the former exercise can be called utilitarian and the latter recreational, then I should be more careful when I’m walking to work. That’s the upshot of a recent study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Researchers there have concluded that geezers like myself are more prone to tumbling while striding to the grocery store or the pharmacy than if they’re walking for exercise. Even on the dreadmill, I presume.

“Older adults have two times the risk of falling while walking out of necessity than walking for recreation, and four times greater risk of injury from a fall on a sidewalk than in a recreational area,” according to lead researcher Wenjun Li, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UMass Medical School, who I would wager has never set foot on a dreadmill.

Dr. Li and his associates theorized that it was the physical environment of a neighborhood — the sidewalks, curbs, and streets — that made “necessary” walking more hazardous than recreational treks. And, while concrete offers plenty of obstacles to geezers striding purposefully from Point A to Point B, I’d suggest that the increased risks may have less to do with the landscape than with one’s frame of mind.

When I’m walking to work in the winter months, my mind is often occupied with the tasks facing me when I arrive. This has led to more than a few icy pratfalls, acrobatics that I generally avoid when I’m paying attention. Recreational walking, on the other hand, usually involves a more focused mindset (or so I’ve been told). This, it seems to me, would reduce the chances of tragic missteps.

Except, of course, in the case of the dreadmill, which in my experience is simply designed to kill.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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