Walking modifications like slowing down and taking frequent breaks are often viewed as a sign of failing function. But a new study has shown that seniors who make these adjustments maintain their ability to stay mobile outdoors, longer.

Finnish researchers found that people aged 75 to 90 who used walking aids, lowered their walking speed, and paused for rest not only maintained outdoor activity, but were more satisfied with their opportunities for outdoor activity over a period of two years. This was not true for their peers who reduced walking frequency and avoided walking long distances.

“Those older people who used maladaptive walking modifications had smaller life-space mobility and they perceived that they lacked possibilities for outdoor mobility,” said Heidi Skantz, University of Jyväskylä.

Most people experience age-related functional decline, and walking long distances can become an increasingly harder and daunting task. But the skill remains crucial to participation in valued activities and community life, wrote Skantz and her colleagues.

For that reason, it is important to identify individual mobility needs to support seniors’ full participation in society, Skantz wrote. She recommends encouraging the use of adaptive walking modifications when needed and designing age-friendly environments. This could mean providing opportunities to rest when walking outdoors, or suitable transportation options, she said.

A positive view of these adaptations “may help older people to maintain their life-space mobility and autonomy to participate in outdoor activities, and protect them from unmet physical activity needs,” she concluded.

An article was published in The Journals of Gerontology.