Following on from the report in the European Heart Journal last week about how a little as 15-20 minutes of walking is linked to living longer, another article by a panel of experts discussing the 12 major benefits of walking to your health has been published.
Although walking is a simple exercise that most people can do, not everyone can. For those who cannot walk independently, being out in the fresh air regularly still has many health benefits. And for those who can only manage a few steps, little and often is best.
These are some great benefits of walking on a regular basis:
1) Boost your mood
Research shows that regular walking modifies your nervous system allowing you to experience a decrease in stress, anger and hostility. This beneficial effect is increased when walking in green spaces and in sunlight. This can be particularly helpful during the colder and darker months, when seasonal depression increases.
2) Reduce your risk of diseases
Walking and exercise lower blood sugar levels and lower your overall risk of type 2 Diabetes. Research has shown that for every 1,000 daily steps you take, your systolic blood pressure can be reduced by by .45 points. Therefore if you can walk 10,000 steps everyday, your systolic blood pressure is likely to be 2.25 points lower than someone else who only walks 5000 steps a day.
The New England Journal of Medicine, published a famous study on walking and health which showed that those who walked enough to meet physical activity guidelines had a 30% lower risk of a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke, compared with those who did not walk regularly.
3) Burn calories and lose weight
Daily walking increases your metabolism by burning extra calories and by maintaining muscle condition and preventing muscle loss. This is also particularly important as we get older. Furthermore, research shows that regular walking can help reduce fat and, as a result, improve your body’s response to insulin, thus reducing your risk of type 2 Diabetes.
4) Live longer
In addition to the study discussed in the previous post, one study found that people who did just 10 to 59 minutes of brisk walking per week had an 18% lower risk of death during the study period compared to those who were doing no exercise. Those who completed 150 minutes of exercise a week in at least 10-minute spurts had a 31% lower risk of death.
5) Boost your brain power
One study looking at brain scans of people who walked briskly for one hour three times a week showed the decision-making areas of their brains worked more efficiently than people who attended educational lectures instead. Other studies have shown that physical exercise, like walking, can improve brain function in older women.
Experts think these benefits could be due in part to increased blood flow to the brain that occurs with exercise.
6) Reduce joint and back pain
Exercising and walking may not be the first thing you want to do when your back or joints hurt however it is the best thing to do. Walking increases blood flow and helps strengthen the muscles surrounding your joints which in turn increases your range of movement, mobility and reduces your pain.
In fact, research shows that walking for at least 10 minutes a day—or about an hour every week—can reduce the risk of disability and arthritis pain in older adults. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine followed 1,564 adults (over 49 years old) with joint pain. Those who walked for an hour each week were more likely to remain disability-free four years later.
7) Reduce the risk of varicose veins
Blood is pumped through the veins back to the heart by the action of muscle contractions. Valves in the veins prevent back flow of blood. Varicose veins can develop if the blood pools in the veins and the valves get damaged. Walking strengthens and preserves leg muscles, which boosts healthy blood flow and prevents the veins becoming varicosed.
8) Improve your digestive system
Regular walking can significantly improve your bowel movements and help reduce constipation.
10) Improve sleep
Physical activity naturally boosts the effects of melatonin, the sleep hormone. A recent study found healthy adults who walked daily had a significant positive impact on sleep quality and length of sleep. Walking also helps reduce pain and stress, which can cause sleep disturbances.
11) Boost the immune system
Walking and exercise results in an increase in the number of immune cells that attack pathogens in our body, which lowers the risk of becoming ill. Furthermore if you do become ill, studies have shown that people who walk more spend less time in the hospital. One study has shown that those who walked regularly could reduce their risk of dying from pneumonia compared to those who don’t exercise regularly.
12) Increase creativity
According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory, and Cognition, going for a walk can increase creativity. Researchers administered creative-thinking tests to subjects while seated and while walking and found that the walkers thought more creatively than the sitters.
In addition to increasing your blood flow around your brain, walking gives you time to clear your head and think.