Sometimes, what you need from you doctor is a prescription for a good walking program. This activity which you’ve been doing since you were about year old is readily available and suitable for everyone and it is now being touted as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” in the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of course, you probably know that any physical activity, including walking, is a great benefit to your overall health. But walking in particular comes with a host of benefits. Here’s a list of five that may surprise you. They are taken from a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical:
- It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes. Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes actually contribute to body weight. They then discovered that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those genes were cut in half.
- It helps tame a sweet tooth. A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations. And the latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks.
- It eases joint pain. Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain, and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
- It boosts immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.
Walking also has a great impact on preventative healthcare, especially as we age.
How walking can improve your health
- Walking helps with weight loss
Taking regular exercise is especially important as we get older and our metabolism slows down, making us more likely to put on weight.
The only way to lose weight is to use up more energy that we take in, and a daily walk can help to burn off some of those calories.
The number of people who are overweight or obese is rising. The latest Health Survey for England (2014) showed the following groups as overweight or obese:
- 78% of men aged 65 to 74
- 80% of men aged 75 to 84
- Over 70% of women aged 65 to 84.
- It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers already know that any kind of physical activity blunts the risk of breast cancer. But an American Cancer Society study that zeroed in on walking found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. And walking provided this protection even for the women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.
- Brisk walking helps to keep the heart strong
According to the British Heart Foundation, over 1 in 7 men and nearly 1 in 10 women die from coronary heart disease (CHD) in the UK. However, people who are physically active are at lower risk of CHD.
Brisk walking can help to keep your heart strong by increasing your heart rate. It can also reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure in the long-term.
High blood pressure is also a key risk factor for stroke, which usually affects people over the age of 65. Some communities are also at higher risk from heart disease. For example, people of South Asian origin are at particular risk of CHD. Experts think this is because of diet and lifestyle.
- Physical exercise reduces your risk of developing cancer
According to Cancer Research UK, cancer causes more than 1 in 4 of all deaths in the UK. Physical activity can reduce your risk of developing some cancers, including breast, bowel, and womb cancer.
- Walking also reduces your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
There are 3.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK in 2015. Most of these cases are Type 2 diabetes, which is more likely to affect adults and those who are overweight or obese.
People in some communities are more likely to have diabetes than others. For example, people of south Asian descent can be up to six times more likely to have diabetes than the general population. African-Caribbean, Black African, and Chinese people are also more at risk.
However, you can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes with regular exercise and a healthy diet.
- Walking can help strengthen your bones
Walking can help to strengthen bones, helping to prevent the onset of osteoporosis, which makes bones brittle and more likely to break.
According to the National Osteoporosis Society, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will break a bone largely due to osteoporosis during their lifetime.
- Walking will improve your mood and mental wellbeing
Regular exercise will improve your mood and increase feelings of wellbeing – and it can even help to relieve depression Being outside in the fresh air has been linked to better mental wellbeing and reduced stress.
Walking can also be a social activity when done in a group or with friends, so it can help to tackle feelings of isolation or loneliness.
- Being physically active can reduce your risk of developing dementia
It is now thought that being physically active and leading a healthy lifestyle could reduce the risk of developing dementia Exercise is also beneficial for the wellbeing of people with dementia. It can lead to improved strength and flexibility, better sleep, and some studies suggest it may improve memory and slow mental decline.