Warmer weather is nudging its way to us and getting outside on a regular basis will be a reality that I encourage to embrace. The simple act of walking has so many health benefits that if the pharmaceutical companies could capture all the benefits and stuff them into a capsule they’d surely do it and charge several dollars for a single capsule.
Walking doesn’t require any special training. Most folks can do I and it doesn’t take any equipment other than a decent pair of shoes. You can walk at the park, around town, around the block in your neighborhood, around the perimeter of your parking lot at work on your lunch break, around the inside of a large store or shopping mall (just don’t stop to shop – keep on walking! – then shop). 30 minutes of exercise per days does so many good things for our bodies, minds and spirits. Start at your fitness level. Walking at a slow pace is fine if that is where you are; challenge yourself to increase the intensity so that you are eventually walking at a pace that talking is possible, but you can’t carry on a chatty conversation with someone.
Let’s list a few things that WALKING can do for you:
- Strengthens your BONES
- Strengthens your HEART
- LOWERS disease risk
- Keeps WEIGHT in check
- Can help prevent DEMENTIA
- Gives you ENERGY
- It makes you HAPPY
WHOA! Did you just read that?
Regular walking has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. It lowers levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) while increasing levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) and keeps your blood pressure in check. A walking habit can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and can keep insulin resistance in check. Insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes and plays a role in many chronic health conditions. Active walkers have around a 20% lowered risk of developing cancer of the colon, breast and uterus. 30 minutes a day. That’s all you need to reap these benefits.
Walking uses calories – you are expending energy. Walking is weight bearing so it stimulates and strengthens bones, increasing their density. This is especially important for women. Post-Menopausal women are at greater risk for osteoporosis. Research shows that post-menopausal women who walk approximately 1 mile per day have higher bone density than women who don’t walk. Walking helps maintain healthy joints and that is bad news for arthritis. Walking strengthens and shapes your leg muscles, giving definition to calves, quads, and hamstrings and gives OOMPH to your glutes – especially if you add hills. If you pay attention to your posture as you walk, your core muscles will get in on the benefits too.
Speed walking comes from your arms. Hold them at a comfortable level at your waist, bent at the elbow, and swing them backwards and forwards as your walk. Swing them faster and you’ll automatically speed up. That movement is working the muscles of your arms, shoulders and upper back. Using all those muscles challenges them and the more muscle we have and use, the more calories we burn, even at rest.
A brisk walk is one of the best natural energizers. Walking boosts circulation and increases oxygen supply to every cell in our bodies, helping us to feel more alert and alive. Think about that the next time you find yourself plopped down on the couch watching TV bemoaning that you “never have time” or are “too tired” to exercise. Get up, lace up the shoes and walk for 15 minutes. I guarantee that you will feel better. Those 15 minutes will become 20, then 30. Walking can clear a cluttered mind. Walking alleviates stress and symptoms of depression. Exercise releases “feel good” endorphins into the bloodstream, reducing stress and anxiety.
Physical activity has a protective effect on brain function and regular exercise can help us avoid brain shrinkage and preserve memory as the years pass. Dementia affects one in 14 people over age 65 and one in 6 over age 80. A study from Harvard a few years ago looked at walking and its many benefits. That study found that later in life, walking becomes as much an INDICATOR of health as a PROMOTER of it. After age 65, how fast you walk may predict how long you have to live. Researchers have found a consistent association between faster walking speed and a longer life. Can you get your shoes on fast enough for a longer life with more memory?
In a nutshell: Walking improves physical and mental function and it makes us feel GOOD.
Stay Healthy. Be Strong. Get After It.