Conventional walking is good for older adults, and walking on a synthetic mat embedded with smooth stones is even better, new research shows.
Walking on the so-called cobblestone mat improves physical function and reduces blood pressure to a greater extent than regular walking, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The idea is that the stone surfaces stimulate acupoints on the soles of the feet, which “elicit therapeutic responses that may contribute to health aging.”
To look into this, Dr. Fuzhong Li, of the Oregon Research Institute, Eugene, and colleagues compared the effects of cobblestone mat walking with regular walking in 108 adults who averaged 77.5 years in age. They were physically inactive but free of neurological and mobility-limiting orthopedic conditions.
The subjects participated in 60-minute group exercise sessions of cobblestone mat walking or regular walking three times per week for 16 weeks.
“Compared to the control condition of regular walking, walking on the uneven, bumpy river-rock like surface of these mats brought about health-related outcomes of reduced blood pressure ... as well as improvements in selected measures of balance and physical function (reach, standing and rising from a chair, and walking speed) in our sample of older adults,” Li told.
“Since hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and Stroke, the outcomes have potential for improving the overall heart health of many people who may be at risk for cardiovascular disease,” Li noted.
While cobblestone mat walking was effective, he said, “it must also be said that regular walking was also beneficial to the walkers, and must continue to be a wonderful and popular form of exercise for people of all ages.”
Future research “might explore the potential for this exercise modality on patients with higher blood pressure levels than our participants,” he added.
In addition, “it would be interesting to explore the mechanisms ... that might help to explain the reasons why foot stimulation influences blood pressure, balance, and functional performance of older adults.”
SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, August 2005.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD