Author: Richard Weil, MEd, CDE
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
"Walking is man's best medicine."
Hippocrates must have been a smart guy! There's a wealth of research to prove that walking is good for you and the results are impressive: major reductions in both diabetes and heart disease, decreases in high blood pressure, increases in bone density, and more all follow regular walking exercise.
In this article, I'll cover how walking can help you, how much you need to do to gain benefits, types of walking and techniques, how to get started, and other valuable information.
Do you remember your first step?
Remember your first step? What a fuss everyone made! And then you continued to walk right on through childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood, but somewhere along the way, like most adults, you probably stopped walking so much. In fact, the percentage of adults who spent most of their day sitting increased from 36.8% in 2000 to 39.9% in 2005! Part of the reason may be your hectic, stressful life, with not a moment to spare for recreation or formal exercise. The environment plays a part too; inactivity has been engineered into our lives, from escalators to remote controls to riding lawn mowers to robotic vacuum cleaners to electric toothbrushes to the disappearance of sidewalks and safe places to walk. But research shows that all this automation is bad for our health. Inactivity is the second leading preventable cause of death in the United States, second only to tobacco use.
You'd think a simple activity like walking would be just that, simple. But fewer than 50% of American adults do enough exercise to gain any health or fitness benefits from physical activity. Is walking our salvation? I don't know for sure, but evidence suggests that it's probably a good start.
What are the top 10 reasons to walk?
- Walking prevents type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program showed that walking 150 minutes per week and losing just 7% of your body weight (12-15 pounds) can reduce your risk of diabetes by 58%.
- Walking strengthens your heart if you're male. In one study, mortality rates among retired men who walked less than one mile per day were nearly twice that among those who walked more than two miles per day.
- Walking strengthens your heart if you're female. Women in the Nurse's Health Study (72,488 female nurses) who walked three hours or more per week reduced their risk of a heart attack or other coronary event by 35% compared with women who did not walk.
- Walking is good for your brain. In a study on walking and cognitive function, researchers found that women who walked the equivalent of an easy pace at least 1.5 hours per week had significantly better cognitive function and less cognitive decline than women who walked less than 40 minutes per week. Think about that!
- Walking is good for your bones. Research shows that postmenopausal women who walk approximately one mile each day have higher whole-body bone density than women who walk shorter distances, and walking is also effective in slowing the rate of bone loss from the legs.
- Walking helps alleviate symptoms of depression. Walking for 30 minutes,
three to five times per week for 12 weeks reduced symptoms of depression as measured with a standard depression questionnaire by 47%.
- Walking reduces the risk of breast and colon cancer. Women who
performed the equivalent of one hour and 15 minutes to two and a half hours per week of brisk walking had an 18% decreased risk of breast cancer compared with inactive women. Many studies have shown that exercise can prevent colon cancer, and even if an individual person develops colon cancer, the benefits of exercise appear to continue both by increasing quality of life and reducing mortality.
- Walking improves fitness. Walking just three times a week for 30 minutes can significantly increase cardiorespiratory fitness.
- Walking in short bouts improves fitness, too! A study of sedentary women showed that short bouts of brisk walking (three 10-minute walks per day) resulted in similar improvements in fitness and were at least as effective in decreasing body fatness as long bouts (one 30-minute walk per day).
- Walking improves physical function. Research shows that walking improves fitness and physical function and prevents physical disability in older persons.
The list goes on, but if I continued, there'd be no time for you to start walking! Suffice to say that walking is certainly good for you!