Health Benefits of Walking
The next time you have a check-up, don't be surprised if your doctor hands you a prescription to walk. Yes, this simple activity that you've been doing since you were about a year old is now being touted as "the closest thing we have to a wonder drug". Of course, you probably know that any physical activity, including walking, is a boon to your overall health. But walking in particular comes with a host of benefits. Here's a list of five that may surprise you.
Walking counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes
Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes actually contribute to body weight. They then discovered that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those genes were cut in half.
Walking helps tame a sweet tooth
A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations. And the latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks.
Walking reduces the risk of developing breast cancer
Researchers already know that any kind of physical activity blunts the risk of breast cancer. But an Australian Cancer Society study that zeroed in on walking found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. And walking provided this protection even for the women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.
Walking eases joint pain
Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain, and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints - especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis - by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
Walking boosts immune function
Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.
Source: Harvard Medical Research
Other facts and stats about walking Health benefit
‘If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity [like walking], it would be regarded as a “wonder drug” or a “miracle cure”’.
'Walking is the nearest activity to perfect exercise' (Morris and Hardman 1997).
Walking and physical activity
Adults are recommended to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity - one way of achieving this would be walk 30 minutes on five days a week. The recommendation for children is at least 60 minutes every day and preferably more. Only around a third of people in Britain achieve the minimum recommended levels.
Inactivity is a key factor in the dramatic growth of obesity. 61% of English adults and 30% of children are overweight or obese.
All walking is beneficial, but for the greatest benefits to heart, lungs and blood pressure, brisk is best. You should be breathing a little faster, feeling a little warmer and can feel your heart beating a little faster, but you still feel comfortable and are able to talk.
Regular brisk walking will:
- Improve performance of the heart, lungs and circulation
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes - inactive and unfit people have double the risk of dying from CHD
- Walking regularly at any speed will
- Help manage weight.
- Reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers such colon, breast and lung cancer
- Improve flexibility and strength of joints, muscles and bones, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- Increase “good” cholesterol
- Boost the immune system
- Improve mood, reduce anxiety, aid sleep and improve self-image
Managing and recovering from health problems
Walking can help you manage and recover from certain long term conditions (as part of a care plan supervised by your doctor). Many patients recovering from heart problems find walking is a good way to recover their strength gently and gradually. Walking can help manage the side effects of cancer treatment and even prevent certain cancers recurring.
Mental health and well being
Walking improves well being and helps fight stress and depression:
- Walking, like other physical activities, releases endorphins which improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety
- Feeling fitter and controlling weight helps improve your body image and confidence
- Active people have a reduced risk of suffering clinical depression
- Walking in a group is a sociable activity that can help improve mental health and overcome feelings of isolation
- Spending time in the outdoors and in contact with the natural environment - for example by walking in parks, woodland and green spaces - can have a positive effect on mental health
Walking and everyday life
For most people, walking is the easiest way to meet physical activity recommendations. Walking is:
- Free and requires no special equipment, training or gym or club memberships.
- Available to almost everyone
- Safe and low-impact, with a low risk of injuries and accidents.
- Easy to start slowly and build up gradually
It’s also one of the easiest activities to fit into your everyday life:
- You can walk from your doorstep at a time that suits you
- You can use walking for everyday short journeys
- You don’t need to concentrate on the walking itself, leaving you free to enjoy your surroundings, chat to friends and family or just relax.
- You can enjoy a variety of surroundings as you walk in different places and different seasons
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