The Walking Cure for What Ails You
Our Delray Beach primary care doctors are always happy when we can recommend non-drug solutions to physical problems.
And one of the best prescriptions we can offer is to suggest walking more. This physical activity is free, can be done anywhere at any time, with no special equipment, and by anyone who is ambulatory.
Walking requires no training (you’ve been walking since you were a toddler, right?), can be done alone or in groups, and confers an amazing number of benefits.
What walking can do for you
According to a report in Harvard Health, “Walking can have a bigger impact on disease risk and various health conditions than just about any other remedy that’s available to you.”
A March 2020 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that the more steps people over age 40 took, the lower their risk of death from all causes.
Researchers compared those who walked 4,000 steps a day with those who walked 8,000 steps a day and found the latter group lowered their risk of mortality by 51 percent, compared to the former group. And the more participants walked, the lower their mortality risk: 12,000 steps a day were linked to a 65 percent lower risk of death when accounting for the subjects’ health conditions.
Following is just a partial list of some of the conditions that can be alleviated by regular walking:
- lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- better memory
- lower body mass index (BMI)/healthier weight
- stronger bones and muscles
- lower fasting blood sugar (glucose)
- improved balance and coordination
- lower risk of cataracts and glaucoma
- improved sleep/lower risk of insomnia
- reduced stress
- lower risk of depression/anxiety
- reduced pain and disability from osteoarthritis
- improved immunity
Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that regular walking (as with other forms of exercise) is “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”
Not only that, but studies have shown that because walking is a low-impact activity, it has one of the lowest injury rates of any form of exercise.
Any walking is worth it
As with most forms of exercise, some is better than none. Harvard Health reports that walking for just 2.5 hours a week, or 21 minutes a day, can cut your risk of heart disease by 30 percent.
And a 2014 University of Utah study found that for every minute of brisk walking that women did throughout the day, they decreased their risk of obesity by five percent.
You don’t need to do power walking to reap the benefits of this easy form of exercise, either. In the JAMA study mentioned above, the benefits of walking showed that no matter how many steps per minute the participants did.
You can walk a treadmill at home, climb stairs in your house, or stroll around your neighborhood. You’ll still reap the same benefits.
Studies have found that even those who are recovering from surgeries or chemotherapy can recover faster when they walk as well as they are able, which may not be much at first.
It’s never too late
Even if you’ve avoided exercise religiously, we hope we’ve convinced you to take up regular walking for your health. No matter how old you are, you can benefit from this simple activity.
Here’s how to get started:
- Start with comfortable shoes. They don’t have to be specifically made for athletics. They should offer support and not raise blisters when you’re walking. Sandals or flip-flops aren’t recommended. You’ll want proper arch support, along with flexible soles to cushion your feet.
- Take it slowly. You don’t have to walk for miles. Start by parking farther from stores and walking the extra distance. Then set a goal of five or ten minutes a day, and increase it if you have the time. Try to schedule regular times to walk until it becomes a habit.
- If you’re the competitive type, use a fitness tracker to keep track of your steps throughout the day. Most experts recommend 10,000-15,000 steps a day for maximum fitness, but again, any walking is better than none.
- Once you’re walking more, you can either increase the distance or the pace. But remember, faster doesn’t necessarily mean better. If the simple act of walking becomes a chore, you’re more likely to fall back into your old sedentary ways. This could lead to missing out on all the benefits of walking more.
If you have health issues or are recently recovering from surgery or other medical treatment, please check with us before beginning any regular form of exercise.