By Michele S. Byers
There is no “magic potion” to cure everything that ails us, but a nonprofit health group is touting the next best thing: walking.
Walk with a Doc, whose mission is to encourage physical activity and reverse the effects of sedentary lifestyles, says walking is the most effective way to improve the health of people of all ages.
Walking is low-impact and easy on the joints. It can be done anywhere. And, according to the American Heart Association, walking has the lowest dropout rate of any physical activity. Once people start walking, they are hooked!
Walk with a Doc’s website lists 100 great reasons to lace up your sneakers and get moving. Here are some highlights:
• Blood pressure: Regular exercise makes your heart stronger, and a stronger heart pumps more blood with less effort. When your heart works less, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering blood pressure. “Becoming more active can lower your systolic blood pressure — the top number in a blood pressure reading — by an average of 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury. That’s as good as some blood pressure medications,” wrote the Mayo Clinic.
• Stress: Stress causes deterioration of the brain – especially the hippocampus, which controls memory. That is why people become forgetful when stressed. Exercise elevates the brain’s production of hormones that help with improved cognitive function, mood and learning. In addition to reducing stress, walking can make you smarter!
• Cholesterol: Studies show a relationship between exercise and reducing the so-called “bad” cholesterol, known as LDL. Exercise stimulates enzymes that help move LDL from the blood and blood vessel walls to the liver. From there, cholesterol is excreted. The more you exercise, the more LDL your body expels.
• Weight control: Unfair as it seems, metabolism varies from individual to individual. A lucky few inherit a speedy metabolism. Men tend to burn more calories than women, even when they are not moving. And metabolism slows steadily after age 40. You can’t control your age, gender or genetics, but a brisk walk will speed up your metabolism.
• Joints: Walking helps maintain cartilage health, and building stronger muscles means less pressure on joints.
• Heart health: The heart is a muscle, and exercise makes it stronger and increases its efficiency. Walking can also lower heart rate and reduce the incidence of heart attacks. The average heart beats 80 times a minute – that’s 115,200 times in a day – but those who exercise regularly tend to have lower heart rates.
• Digestion: Walking stimulates digestion. And because exercise can accelerate breathing and heart rate, it helps with the natural contraction of intestinal muscles.
• Backaches: Walking strengthens the muscles in your feet, legs, hips and torso, increases the stability of your spine, and conditions the muscles that keep your body in the upright position. Walking improves circulation, nourishing the soft tissue in the spinal structure and removing toxins. It also improves flexibility and posture, allowing a greater range of motion.
• Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes, is linked to behavioral and lifestyle factors, including excess weight, lack of exercise and smoking. Not only can walking help with weight loss, but studies found the adrenaline rush and stress relief from exercising reduces cigarette cravings.
• Increased life expectancy: The World Health Organization recommends two-and-a-half to five hours of brisk walking per week, or less time with more vigorous activities. Studies found that people who get the full recommended amount of exercise have an average 3.4-year gain in life expectancy. Even those who got only half as much exercise lived an average of 1.8 years longer.
For the full list of 100 reasons to walk, each of which links to an article or study, go to http://walkwithadoc.org/why-walk/
Walk with a Doc organizes public walks led by local physicians. While walking, you will get your medical questions answered by doctors. For a nationwide listing of doctor-led walks, go to http://walkwithadoc.org/our-locations/walk-directory/
But if there are no doctor-led walks nearby, go with friends, an organized group or by yourself. The important thing is to get started and keep it up. And to amplify the positive health impacts, walk outside in nature. Any exercise is good, but studies show that walking in a natural setting provides the biggest boosts to mental and physical health. Get outside and walk today!
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.