Cancer, Stroke & Heart can walk them away!

The beneficial effects of regular aerobic exercise on heart disease, stroke, and blood cholesterol levels have been well documented. But what about longer term benefits? And how about less strenuous (and perhaps more achievable) forms of exercise, such as walking?

An important study of walking by Amy A. Hakim and coworkers appeared in the January 8, 1998 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine (volume 338, pages 94-99). The study involved 707 nonsmoking retired men enrolled in the Honolulu Heart Program, 61 to 81 years of age. The men were grouped according to their walking activity levels. The study monitored the death rate (mortality) of the men over a 12-year period.

The results indicate that regular walking is associated with a lower rate of death. The death rate was significantly lower among the men who walked a mile or more per day than among those who walked shorter distances. Those men who walked more than two miles per day had the lowest death rates during the study.

Walking appeared to be protective against heart disease and stroke. And most unexpectedly, walking appeared to reduce the risk of death from cancer!

While the positive aspects of walking were apparent, the exact mechanisms of action of this form of exercise were not determined in the study. It is presumed that walking reduces heart disease and stroke by decreasing high blood pressure (hypertension) and lowering the level of cholesterol while improving the circulation.

Regular exercise, such as walking, swimming, cycling and many other aerobic fitness methods can have benefits beyond the cardiovascular system. Regular exercise strengthens and tunes muscles and it increases the flexibility of joints. This leads to a reduced risk of falling and breaking bones. Regular exercise clearly reduces bone thinning (osteoporosis). And regular exercise can promote socialization and a general sense of well being.

Many exercise programs are not as accessible as a simple regular walking program. Walking requires modest amounts of effort. For many reasons, walking should be encouraged as an available and beneficial form of exercise and even as a life saver!

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