Walking is one of those rare do-it-all exercises that offers a wide array of health benefits to people of all ages. It is also an exercise we commonly recommend to our patients where fitness level may be a concern. It is easy to do and all you need is a well-supported pair of shoes suitable for walking.
A lot of our patients have reported marked improvement to their physical and mental well-being after they started scheduling daily walks into their lives. A stronger immune system, stress relief and metabolism boost are just some of the regularly-touted benefits once walking becomes part of their regular workout routine.
Due to its low-impact nature when compared to running, walking is a great go-to exercise for people who may still be recovering from a surgery or injury. It is also an excellent way to maintain a healthy weight without over-straining your joints and ligaments. One study also reported that people who regularly engaged in moderate exercise such as brisk walking had a lower risk of death compared to their inactive counterparts.
Read on to learn more about the tremendous rewards of walking.
10,000 Steps Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Diseases
Research has shown that people who hit the 10,000-step mark everyday reported a systolic blood pressure decrease of 0.45 points for every 1000 steps taken. This is significant as this can mean the difference between a normal vs an elevated blood pressure. Another well-cited study found that people who walked regularly had lower risk of getting a heart attack or a stroke when compared to those who were not as active.
The key to adopting walking as a form of chronic disease prevention is the duration of the walks. Doctors often recommend walking for at least 60 minutes once or twice a week as research has shown that this level of physical activity has the most substantial results.
Brisk Walking Lowers The Risk of Diabetes
Exercise is instrumental to controlling your blood sugar. If you are looking for a low-impact exercise that poses less risk of injury to your joints and ligaments that can also improve your insulin resistance, there are few better exercises than walking. When we exercise, our bodies use up glucose and doing this regularly can bring down your average blood sugar. Type 2 Diabetes is an impairment in the way the body regulates sugar as a fuel and seriously affect your quality of life. High levels of blood sugar can eventually result in disorders to your circulatory, nervous and immune systems.
The Diabetes Prevention Program was a randomised clinical trial that found that people with prediabetes who exercised at least 150 minutes and lost about 7 percent of their body weight were able to reduce their chance of developing full-blown diabetes. The results of another similar study reported that participation in 12 weeks of walking exercise is effectively improved insulin resistance in obese middle-aged women.
It Can Help With Weight Loss
To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Walking can be done almost anywhere and by pairing it with a healthy diet, you can finally work towards shedding those hard-to-lose inches around your belly. A daily routine of moderate-intensity walking for an hour has even been shown to cut the effects of obesity-promoting genes by half.
As you get used to the intensity of your walks, you can level up by planning your route to include some steep inclines or incorporating some form of interval training. Interval training (alternating short bursts of intense activity with longer intervals of less intense activity) is much more effective for burning extra calories compared to a leisurely stroll at a moderate pace.
If you are new to interval training, you can start with a 25-minute walk that alternates between one-minute intervals of walking as fast as you can and slowing down to a brisk walk that is half your fastest walking speed and intensity. Do not forget to warm up and cool down after each session. As always, we recommend that you consult with your doctors or therapists before participating in any strenuous activities.
Regular Walks Improve Mental Health
If you ever felt mentally rejuvenated after a walk through a park or a trek through some forest greenery, it could be the “forest bathing” effect doing its magic. Studies have shown that exposure to nature has positive physiological effects that include a decrease in blood pressure as well as keeping depression at bay and improving your overall mental health.
Regular walking in nature can actually modify your nervous system to the extent that you start to experience a decrease in anger and hostility. In addition, regular physical activity has also been linked to improved sleep quality and length of sleep. The importance of having enough quality sleep cannot be overstated, lack of sleep has been linked to depression, increased inflammation and even an impaired immune system.
It Eases Joint Pain
There are parts of our bodies which are especially susceptible to osteoarthritis, namely the knees and hips. The good news is that walking directs more blood flow to these tense joints and helps strengthen the muscles supporting them. Studies have shown that walking regularly (at least 8 to 10km a week) can reduce arthritis-related pain and swelling.
The low-impact movement involved in walking also lubricates your joints without causing pain. It reduces any stiffness while increasing your range of motion. Another important advantage is that almost all of the major muscle groups are used to maintain motion and balance during fast-paced walking. This means that you are lubricating your joints and increasing blood flow throughout your entire body.
As you settle into a regular walking routine, you will naturally gain more confidence in achieving your health goals. The key is to maintain a daily habit of engaging in any form of moderate-intensity activity suitable for your fitness level. Brisk walking is ideal as a moderate-intensity activity as it increases your heart rate to about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. (you can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. A 40 year-old would get a maximum heart rate of 180 using this method.)
Always remember to do the proper warm up and cool down routines during each of your walk sessions. You should also stay hydrated during your walks, especially during hotter days. If you are venturing into beaches and nature parks, it will also be wise to apply insect repellant on exposed skin.
For beginners to moderate to fast-paced walking, you are advised to consult with a medical professional to assess your physical condition before you begin. If you have not been physically active for a long period of time, there is always a risk of injury if you try to do too much and too soon. That said, walking remains one of the safest exercise you can do to get back in shape and stay healthy. That is why it is our most recommended physical activity here at Hip & Knee Orthopaedics, especially for seniors recovering from an injury or surgical procedure.