12 Reasons Why Walking is Beneficial to Your Health
Has anyone ever told you that you should walk more? If so, have you ever wondered why? Walking seems like such a simple activity, you’d never expect it to have so many incredible health benefits on the body. First and foremost, it’s free exercise! No monthly charge for a gym membership or any kind of financial obligation required, and you still get the fat burning effects you want. Walking is a low impact activity, putting much less stress on joints, tendons, and ligaments compared to running or other high intensity forms of exercise.
It can also be an extremely relaxing activity, giving people the ability to take a break from the stress of the day and enjoy the nature around them as they walk. As if these benefits weren’t enough, walking for even just a half hour per day can have monumental benefits to your physical and mental health.
Weight Loss and Reduces Cravings:
A brisk 30 minute walk can burn 200 calories, which is equivalent to 20 minutes of intense biking under certain conditions. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that participants in their study on weight-promoting genes who walked for an hour each day at a brisk pace experienced half of the weight gain effects by these weight-promoting genes compared to those that did not walk. Walking for even just 15 minutes can reduce a person’s cravings for sugary foods or chocolate, even those pesky stress cravings!
Reduces the Risk of Breast Cancer
Walking for 7 hours per week can reduce a person’s risk of developing breast cancer by up to 14%, and is highly recommended to women that have a greater risk of developing breast cancer due to certain factors such as being overweight, hormone supplementation, and family history.
Strengthens Bones and Reduces Joint Pain
Taking a 30 minute walk each day can stop the loss of bone mass and density, especially in people suffering from osteoporosis. Walking also lubricates joints, strengthens their supporting muscles, and enhances the supply of oxygen and nutrients brought to cartilage and joint cells. Walking 5 to 6 miles each week can greatly reduce the inflammation and pain experienced in arthritic knees, hips, and ankles, and can even prevent the development of arthritis from occurring.
Improves Immune System
In a research study performed on over 1,000 men and women who all walked for a minimum of 20 minutes per day, at least 5 days a week, it was found that 43% of participants experienced fewer sick days than those who only exercised once a week or less. Participants who did walk at least 5 days also reported that if they did get sick, their symptoms were milder and did not last as long as those who did not walk.
Walking is a great form of exercise to tone and strengthen core and leg muscles. It’s a great way to shape up muscles while losing weight and build the strength required for other activities like playing soccer with the kids or going for a bike ride along the beach with your loved one. Core and leg strength also becomes more important as we age to keep us fit, healthy, and independent. Working the hip and leg muscles while walking helps maintain range of motion, relieve weight-bearing pressure on joints, and maintain core strength and balance.
Cardiovascular Health and Circulation
Walking for at least 30 minutes per day can strengthen the heart muscles, lower blood pressure and reduce symptoms of Hypertension, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, and improve circulation throughout the body. Blood circulating throughout the body transports vital nutrients and oxygen to all cells, bringing them the fuel they require to function optimally. Healthy circulation is key to optimal body system functions and overall health and wellness. For people who may be prone to blood clots, walking every day can greatly reduce this risk. As you walk, the calf muscles and the blood vessels that run through them contract and relax, forcing the flow of blood through and out of the lower extremities, reducing the formation of clots. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a common condition in adults over the age of 60, increasing the potential formation of blood clots in the legs. Going for a half hour walk in the morning or evening is a great start or end to the day, while also combating a DVT clot from forming.
Walking can be a great, natural treatment for insomnia in older adults. According to the Arthritis Foundation, one study performed on women ages 50-75 documented that those who took an hour-long walk every morning experienced greater relief from their insomnia symptoms than those who didn’t add walking to their treatment plan. Going for a walk in the morning has been known to alter the body’s natural secretion of the sleep hormone, melatonin, increasing the onset of nocturnal melatonin in the evenings when our bodies’ circadian rhythm shifts from daytime energy to nighttime rest mode. An evening walk can reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, promoting relaxation as well as elevate the body’s core temperature. About 30-90minutes after the walk, the body’s core temperature begins to fall, facilitating sleepiness.
Walking can improve mood in many ways. The sense of accomplishment a person may feel after going for a walk can improve someone’s attitude for the rest of the day. Humans are a social species, so spending time with a loved one and socializing while enjoying the nature around them can alter a person’s attitude without even realizing it. At the scientific level, exercise stimulates the body to release endorphins, also known as “feel-good hormones”, which promote feelings of happiness and relaxation to improve a person’s mood. Think of it as your body’s way of “rewarding” you for taking care of it by exercising, walking improves overall health and the body’s ability to function optimally so as a “thank you”, your body releases endorphins in the brain to make you feel happy and relaxed. The more steps you take, the more your body “thanks” you by releasing more endorphins!
Improves Lung Health and Function
Similar to the way walking increases the strength of leg muscles, it also increases the strength of the muscles surrounding the lungs that are responsible for their expansion and contraction as you breathe in and out. This increase in lung capacity and function improves their ability to circulate more oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the body. This also improves oxygen levels in the bloodstream to be brought to cells in the body for improved function, resulting in improved cell health, better waste elimination from the body, increased energy output, and improved natural healing function by cells in the body.
Slows Mental Decline and Lowers Alzheimer’s and Dementia Risk
You may remember back in the Home Care, Recharged blog article Brain Power Foods, the correlation between cardiovascular health and brain health was mentioned, discussing the importance of healthy blood circulation and fueling the brain. The brain itself is mostly made of fatty tissue containing billions of neurotransmitters, cells that relay messages through the nervous system to respond to environmental stimuli, control thought, emotion, preserve memories, perform motor skills, and control every autonomic and somatic function in the body. All cells require oxygen and nutrients to function optimally, including these brain cells. There is about 400 miles worth of blood vessels and capillaries spread throughout the brain to fuel these cells, which is where walking comes in. The benefits that walking has on cardiovascular health, circulation, and lung function means that there is more oxygen and nutrients made available to these brain cells. This improves their health, function, and life expectancy, thus slowing down the rate of decline in mental functions and reducing the risk of developing age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
Reduces Risks of Developing Mental and/or Physical Disabilities
Losing our sense of independence is often one of the biggest fears we have as we age. Our bodies begin to slow down and our physical and mental abilities begin to decline. Muscles and joints begin to stiffen and remembering simple tasks becomes harder. Daily walking for at least 30 minutes offers the body the help it needs to stay in its best shape! Muscles and joints stay stronger, mood stays better, and the brain maintains healthy cells for optimal function. As we get older, the importance of exercise increases in order to keep our bodies as healthy as possible. Walking every day offers our bodies the physical and mental benefits it needs to aid in our fight to maintain our independence and grow old gracefully and happily.
Live a Longer Life
All of these benefits work to enhance life expectancy and the quality of that longer life! Research shows that daily exercise, especially walking, by people in their 50s and 60s, are 35% less likely to pass away in the next 8 years when compared to non-walkers. That percentage increases to 45% less likely in those with underlying conditions!
So now that you know, what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy the nature around you while you walk to a happier, healthier, and longer life! If you need assistance getting outside or if you just want a walking companion, our Home Care Providers and Nurses can be available to assist you.