In hospital? Walk your way to recovery

New research suggests slow walking for 25 minutes a day can benefit hospital patients.

New research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at how exercise could reduce the decline of patients in hospital. It studied 3,842 people between the ages of 55 and 87.

Slow-paced walking around the hospital corridors for just 25 minutes a day helped to reduce patients’ chances of being readmitted to hospital or being moved to a nursing home.

The best outcomes were for patients who walked for 50 minutes a day – or 40 minutes, combined with other exercise, such as 20 minutes of resistance-band work and 20 of aerobic activity.

A nurse helps a patient with a walking frameCredit: Shutterstock/pixs4u
Walking can help avoid “post-hospital” syndrome

The study also found that older patients spent on average just 45 minutes out of bed, which could lead to “post-hospital” syndrome – a general deconditioning in the 30 days after discharge, that could leave them vulnerable to readmission or needing a nursing home. That’s due in part to the period of inactivity, rather than the condition that originally caused them to be admitted to hospital.

Although the study only focused on people who could move on their own, it shows the importance of staying active while in hospital and suggests that short sessions might be enough to achieve improvements in function.

How “PJ paralysis” causes long-term problems

The finding that lying in bed when you’re able to move around is bad for you is not new, as there was already plenty of evidence that bed rest could lead to deconditioning, the loss of functional ability and cognitive impairment. In 2018, the NHS launched an initiative to end “PJ paralysis”, aiming to get patients out of bed and dressed by lunchtime so they could move around.

Falls are the most common cause of emergency admission to hospital for the over-65 age group, according to the latest statistics from Age UK, with one in six emergency readmissions in those aged 75 or older occurring within 30 days of being discharged.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said that hospital admissions could have “serious knock-on effects” on people’s physical fitness and abilities, adding: “We know it’s important for older people to keep moving to maintain their capabilities and independence.

“This research is encouraging, in that it indicates that relatively small amounts of walking each day can help to balance out the effects of long periods of time in bed or a chair.

“However, it only included people who were able to walk unaided, so we need to make sure that older people who need support to get up and move around are also given the opportunity to do so.

“Time invested in keeping older people moving during hospital admissions will pay dividends when they return home with their independence maintained.”

How to use resistance bands: key moves to try at home

The study found resistance bands to be a great tool for recovery. Saga’s fitness writer Becky Fuller explains the benefits of using them for strength training.

Strength training is important as we age because it protects against sarcopenia – the loss of muscle mass. It also protects our bones and keeps joints strong. The NHS recommends that all adults do some form of strength training at least two days a week.

Resistance bands are a great way to begin strength training. They’re affordable, versatile, and easy to use and store. Bands come in all shapes, sizes and kilogram/ pound equivalents. They are similar to weighted exercises, in that they put stress on our muscles through movement. This stress then encourages muscle fibres to grow stronger, preserving our muscle mass and protecting joints.

You can buy long resistance bands (some have attachable handles to help with certain exercises) or smaller resistance loops (to go around legs). Fabric bands are particularly good as they don’t roll up the legs. Amazon has many affordable options.

Woman using resistance bandCredit: Shutterstock/PanuShot

Five ways to get started with resistance bands

  • Place a resistance loop around your legs, about 2in above the knees and perform eight to 10 squats, for three rounds.
  • Position a resistance loop just above the elbows for extra support in push-ups (trust me, it works!).
  • With a band just above your knees, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Lift your hips towards the ceiling, squeezing your bum muscles each time. Do three rounds of 10.
  • Stand on a long resistance band and grasp the ends. Start with your hands at waist level, then press overhead. Do three rounds of eight to 10 repetitions.
  • Standing on a long band, hold the handles or ends of it and bring your elbows tight to your sides. From there, perform three sets of 10-12 bicep curls.
Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier


Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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