Walking towards better health
Walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. If done correctly, it can be the key to losing weight, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and keeping your joints strong and boosting your mood, as well as reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Walking can even help your mood. A number of studies have found that it’s as effective as drugs for decreasing depression. It can help to relieve everyday stresses, too, no matter your age. Walking for 30 minutes a day or more on most days of the weeks is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health.
Here are some of the benefits of daily walking:
Improving heart health:
The National Heart Foundation of Australia estimates that walking 30 minutes or more each day can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by 35 per cent. Plus, daily walking can help you to maintain a healthy weight, metabolism, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol, all of which help to keep your heart healthy. Even if you can’t commit to 30 minutes per day, the evidence shows that even a small amount of walking is better than none when it comes to heart health.
Maintaining a healthy weight:
Regular walking can help to reduce fat and improve the body’s response to insulin, according to research. Daily walking can also reduce food craving and the intake of a variety of sugary snacks. It increases the metabolism by burning extra calories and preventing muscle loss, which is particularly important as we get older.
Research shows that just 10 minutes of walking can improve mood. Walking releases endorphins, a feel-good chemical in the body that promotes a state of pleasure like laughter and love. Endorphins also interact with receptors in the brain and bring about feelings of well-being, increased self-esteem, increased pain tolerance, and even a sense of euphoria, often referred to as a “runner’s high.”
Walking can play a huge role in reducing the development and progression of osteoarthritis, a form of arthritis that affects the joints. Beating the pavement can help to improve the body’s range of motion and mobility because walking increases the blood flow to tense areas and helps strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints. Research shows that walking for at least 10 minutes a day or about an hour every week can protect the joints, especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis, by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
Physical activity naturally boosts the effects of the sleep hormone melatonin. One study has found that healthy adults who walk daily experience a significant positive impact on sleep quality and length of sleep. Walking also helps to reduce pain and stress, which can cause sleep disturbances.
Enhancing the immune system:
Research shows that moderate-intensity exercise and walking in particular ramps up the immune system. It increases the number of immune cells that attack pathogens in the body, lowering the risk of becoming seriously ill from infectious diseases.
Reducing breast cancer risk:
An American Cancer Society study that zeroed in on walking found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14 per cent lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. Walking provided this protection even for those with breast cancer risk factors such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.
Walking can seriously help you add years to your life. One study found that people who do just 10 to 59 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) per week had an 18 per cent lower risk of death during the study period compared to those who were inactive. Meanwhile, people who completed the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise in at least 10-minute spurts had a 31 per cent lower risk of death.
Connecting with nature:
Along with boosting creativity, walking in a park or near water can make you feel more centred. A study found that group nature walks are linked to fewer depressive symptoms, less stress, and an overall brighter mood. There are some benefits of walking barefoot, too. It triggers muscles in your feet, legs, and hips that don’t fire in the same way when you’re wearing shoes.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly