“If the body be feeble, the mind will not be strong. The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is best. I have known some great walkers and had particular accounts of many more; and I never knew or heard of one who was not healthy and long lived.”
Thomas Jefferson (August 27th, 1786)
Jefferson was a strong advocate of exercise. He recommended at least two hours a day. A central part of his exercise routine was walking. He loved to walk. And his walking was no leisurely stroll. At 46 years old he was walking at a rate of a little over 4 miles and hour. That’s not too shabby.
I also love to walk. I have been doing it consistently for about 8 years. These are 10 reasons why it’s so healthy and why I enjoy it so much.
It’s Easy To Do
For me walking is relatively easy. I have the required equipment and the necessary experience to do it. There is no need for me to join a gym or look for a partner (even though I have one) or trainer to do it. All I have to do is open the door, get outside, and get started. Now I didn’t say it was easy to walk far or fast. But it is easy to get started. I started out with a stroll around the block and built up to a 2-mile brisk walk almost everyday. Barring a debilitating injury or some kind of sickness everyone can walk.
Walking Is Heart Healthy
Medical researchers have known for a long while of the positive effects of walking on the heart and circulatory system. A public review on walking from Harvard Medical School cited a University College London study of about 460,000 participants, which found that,
“…Walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events (angina, heart attack, heart failure, coronary artery bypass surgery, angioplasty, and stroke) by 31%. These benefits were equally robust in men and women. Protection was evident even at distances of just 5½ miles per week and at a pace as casual as about 2 miles per hour. The people who walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or both, enjoyed the greatest protection.”
So if you want to do something good for your heart, walk more.
Brisk Walking May Help Us Live Longer
A recent study by Cambridge University in England of over 334,000 European men and women found that a brisk 20 minute walk per day could be enough to reduce an individuals risk of early death. The researchers estimated that engaging in exercise equivalent to just a 20 minute brisk walk each day (burning between 90 and 110 kilocalories) would take an individual from the inactive to the moderately inactive group and reduce their risk of premature death by between 16-30%. The impacts were greater for those of normal body weight but those of higher BMI also showed a benefit.
A more recent study done by researchers pooling data from 6 ongoing studies of 661,000 individuals over a 14 year time period found that those who completed just 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, “enjoyed greater longevity benefits and 31 percent less risk of dying during the 14-year period compared with those who never exercised.”
A good question is how fast is a brisk walk. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a brisk walking pace is about 20 minutes per mile or 3 miles per hour. A brisk walk is also considered a moderate intensity workout. The CDC defines this as being 50% – 70% of an individual’s maximum heart rate. To determine your maximum heart rate click here.
I usually walk at about 3.5 mph on the treadmill and a little slower outdoors. Barbara can’t walk as fast so I slow down a little so she can keep up. I do use a heart rate monitor. The one I use can be found here.
So if you want to reduce your mortality risk, walk more!
Walking Will Make You Smarter
Well kind of. Research indicates that walking conveys numerous cognitive benefits. Walking 30 minutes a day for most days of the week can protect our memory and thinking skills. See here, here and here. Walking can also improve the cognitive performance and academic skills of pre-adolescents.
Interestingly one study revealed that older adults who engaged in 40 minutes of brisk walking 3 times a week for one year showed an increase in the size in an area of the brain called the hippocampus and also improved memory. The hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain that suffers damage in Alzheimer’s disease. As one who has witnessed the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s on a family member, if brisk walking may protect against it, I all for it.
Walking Lowers An Individuals Risk To Type 2 Diabetes
The latest data from the CDC reveal that 29 million Americans have diabetes.
About 95% or 27.5 million of those people have type 2 diabetes. What’s even more disconcerting is that another 86 million adults have pre-diabetes. This means that their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 Diabetes. The CDC states that without weight loss and moderate physical activity 15-20% of pre-diabetics will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years.
Interestingly the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed 10 studies that investigated the relationship between physical activity of moderate intensity and type 2 Diabetes. Their review included a total of 301,221 participants. They found that those individuals who regularly engaged in physical activity of moderate intensity had about a 30% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to sedentary individuals. They concluded that physical activities of moderate intensity such as 30 minutes of brisk walking daily could substantially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
If one has trouble controlling glycemic spikes or simply wants to improve their body’s ability to control blood glucose levels walking is an excellent way to do it.
Walking Can Reduce Body Fat
While walking may not be a muscle sculpting exercise it can modestly reduce body fat. Though studies concerning walking and weight loss have been inconclusive it seems that walking may be a great way to keep a common New Years resolution. Here is a study that concluded, “Inclusion of a walking program of moderate training regimen into a weight maintenance program improved maintenance of losses in weight and waist circumference.” I say go for it.
Walking Gives Your Immune System A Boost
If you want to give your immune system a boost, walking is the way to do it. Regular exercise can protect an individual against diseases associated with chronic low-grade systemic inflammation. As little as a 30 minutes a day walk will increase the activity of neutrophils which fight bacteria and natural killer (NK) cells which aid in the defense of viruses and cancer. But if you really want to boost your immune system try a walk in the woods. Studies from Japan are showing that walking in the woods is extremely beneficial to our health. It seems that walking in a forest setting significantly increases NK killer cell activity.
It appears that trees and other plants release chemicals called phytoncides. This chemical, while protecting plants from harmful pathogens increases the number of NK cells by influencing intracellular anti-cancer proteins in humans. Wow, that should make us thankful for the wonderfully designed ecosystem we inhabit!
Walking Reduces Stress
Moderate exercise including brisk walking stimulates the production of endorphins. These chemicals produced in the brain and other parts of the central nervous system are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Have you ever heard of a “runners high”? This is caused by a release of endorphins in the brain. Of course if we feel good we won’t have as much stress.
Though aerobic exercise will increase the immediate release of the stress hormone cortisol, there is no long-term release with the potential to damage the HPA Axis. On the contrary walking as an aerobic exercise optimizes the HPA Axis stress response. Again walking in a natural setting can be significantly effective in reducing stress.
Walking Gives Us A Chance To Think
The ancients had a Latin phrase about the importance of walking: Solvitur Ambulando. It means, “It is solved by walking.” The term originally referred to the Greek philosopher Diogenes’ response when asked whether or not motion was real. In response he stood up and walked away. Soon the phrase was adopted as a way to summarize how taking a walk outside energizes us and helps us think through our problems. While walking we have time to think up solutions to problems, come up with ideas and strategize. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once mused, “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.”
Walking Gives Us A Chance Not To Think
Thomas Jefferson would have agreed. He too believed that walking not only contributed to bodily health, but mental health as well. He wrote, “A strong body makes the mind strong, the object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk. But divert your attention by the objects surrounding you.” Walking gives us an opportunity to tune out from all the days stress and confusion. Walking allows our minds to rest.
I have been walking consistently for about 8 years. Barbara and I started with a casual stroll around the neighborhood and slowly built up to 1 3/4 miles per day, in about 30- 35 minutes. When I walk outside I always walk with Barbara. She has me all to her self. We get to share all those benefits above.
I will also use a treadmill during the day to break up periods of long sitting. A lot of attention is now being given to the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle.
Often I will walk about 10-15 minutes at a time through out the day. I usually walk at a pace of about 3.5 mph. A recent study has shown that 30 minutes of walking broken up into 10 minute segments may convey the same benefits as one 30 minute session. See here, and here.
That means that individuals who don’t have a lot of spare time can walk shorter intervals before work, during breaks or after work and still get excellent benefits. We just have to look for those 10 minutes here and there.
Barbara and I really dislike walking outside when it’s cold (that’s like anything less than 50° Fahrenheit). So during the winter we use a treadmill. Our old treadmill broke over the winter and it took us about two months to get a new one. After extensive research we bought this one. We really love it. Nicole and Michael also use it in their exercise routines. It’s a real family machine.
For me walking has been an important piece of the puzzle in restoring my health. How about you? Do you walk everyday? What has been your experience with walking? I hope this post has encouraged you to walk more. Thanks for reading.
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