Taking steps to improve your health can be as simple as, well, actually taking steps. That’s right. Numerous studies have documented the health benefits of simply putting one foot in front of the other. According to a National Public Radio poll conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, walking is the exercise Americans say they engage in most frequently. And it definitely pays off. Many sources including the American Heart Association, the Arthritis Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, and major medical centers and academic institutions across the country have documented a multitude of benefits to walking.
Walking improves circulation, increases heart rate, and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight and reduce abdominal fat. As a result, the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes is reduced.
Walking also has a positive impact on bone and joint health. It can help people with osteoarthritis rebuild joints because leg movement sends needed nutrients to joint cartilage. In addition, building leg muscles and losing weight takes pressure off the joints. Walking can slow bone loss in people with osteoporosis, too.
Feeling better emotionally is another benefit of walking. Research indicates that regular walking decreases anxiety and depression, and lightens mood. Energy levels and sleep quality are enhanced, as well.
Research has also shown that walking has a positive effect on mental acuity. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that age-related memory decline was lower in individuals who walked more. Another study at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville found men between the ages of 71 and 93 who walked more than a quarter of a mile per day had half the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than those who walked less.
As always, before embarking on any program of exercise consult with your personal physician or primary care provider to ensure your well-being and safety.
Formal guidelines recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. That can be broken down however you wish — three ten-minute walks, two 15-minute walks, etc. It stands to reason, though, that some exercise is better than no exercise. So it is fine to start off slowly and gradually increase your distance and pace. As you enjoy the summer’s fresh air, scenery, and sunshine on foot, you can feel good knowing that you’re doing something great for your health at the same time.