MILLIONS of people seem to think that if they can’t join a spa and spend a lot of time working out, they might as well forget about health benefits from exercise. Yet, that isn’t true. Dr. Russell Pate of the University of South Carolina says: “I think we have to officially sanction the idea that a nice, comfortable walk around the block after dinner is a very desirable thing to do.”
But will a walk really do you that much good? Does walking have health benefits that are truly significant?
WALKING IS GOOD MEDICINE
GREEK PHYSICIAN HIPPOCRATES viewed walking as “man’s best medicine.” In fact, there is an adage that says, “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Is walking really that beautiful?
Well, some studies suggest that people who walk consistently may develop fewer illnesses than people who are sedentary. The studies show that walking reduces the risk of heart disease and of having a stroke. It can fend off diabetes by improving the body’s ability to use insulin. It keeps bones strong, preventing osteoporosis. Walking builds strength, flexibility, and stamina. It supports weight loss and weight maintenance. Additionally, walking improves sleep, enhances mental function, and can even help to counteract depression.
Some years ago researchers at the University of Southern California reportedly found that a 15-minute walk brings more relief from anxiety and tension than a mild tranquilizer! Like other physical activities, walking triggers the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that relieve pain and stimulate relaxation, producing a sense of calm and well-being.
According to The Medicine Post of Canada, even a leisurely stroll can produce health benefits. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reveals that walking as little as 800 meters a day reduces mortality. Recent studies suggest that exercising three times in a day, for 10 minutes each time, will do you almost as much good as exercising continuously for 30 minutes. So you might think about parking farther away from your destination and walking the rest of the way. Or you could go for a mini walk some time during the day.
Even greater benefits can come from brisk walking. Dr. Carl Casperson of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “Going from being sedentary to walking briskly for a half hour several days a week can drop your risk [of disease] dramatically.” And what is so good about walking is that people of all ages and practically all health levels can do it. Moreover, it doesn’t require special training or athletic skill –only a good pair shoes.
ENJOR A GOOD WALK
WEAR comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. For warmth, add layers that are easily shed. Use flexible, lightweight shoes with a cushioned low heel and roomy toe box. They should be somewhat larger than your usual dress shoe. If you plan to walk for more than half an hour and there will be no drinking water on your route, you may want to take a light container of water with you. Warm up by walking at an easy pace for the first five minutes. Maintain an upright posture, keeping the elbows and knees slightly bent and hand cupped, not clenched.
After warming up, fall into a natural, brisk stride in which the heel of the foot strikes the ground first, rolling through the step to the toes. Flexible shoes are thus needed. Does all this sound like a lot to remember? Relax –most people walk this way naturally. Your pace should allow you to carry on a full conversation without getting breathless.
If you are new at walking, build up your time, distance, and speed gradually. Cool down by slowing your pace near the end of your walk. For those interested in burning calories, going from a 12-minute kilometer will use up 30 percent more calories per minute. Increasing the pace from a 9-minute kilometer to a 7-minute kilometer will burn up 50 percent more calories per minute.
Most fitness walkers cover a kilometer in about 7 to 9 minutes. It may be best to consult a doctor before beginning an exercise regimen, especially if you suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, or some other medical condition.