Monday, March 26, 2012

Walking Toward a Longer, Healthier Life

Walking is riding a wave of popularity with many health-conscious people. Its pleasures, utility, and health-giving qualities are many. And, unlike the jarring effects of long distance jogging, its risks are minimal. Walking, combined with exercises designed to increase flexibility and strength, gives your body the exercise it needs to improve and maintain good health.

Some of the facts researchers have found include:

Longer, healthier life. The Institute on Aerobics Research in Dallas show that people who walk vigorously for 30 to 60 minutes each day live significantly longer, healthier lives. When done briskly and regularly, walking lowers the resting heart rate, reduces blood pressure, boosts levels of the heart-healthy HDL cholesterol, increases the efficiency of the heart and lungs, and burns calories.

Better mental health. Exercise stimulates the short-term release of endorphins, chemicals that promote the perception of "feeling good," resulting in noticeable improvement with a sense of well being, better family relations, less loneliness, better moods, and greater self-confidence.

Increased stamina. If you don't exercise after the age of 25, your ability to do aerobic activities will drop by 10 percent every 10 years. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, your body is slowly deteriorating as it ages. But this trend can be reversed by beginning an exercise program.

Begin now to gradually and systematically regain your stamina. Experts say that it takes a month of reconditioning to make up for each year of physical inactivity. Begin by walking at a comfortable pace for 20 minutes four or five times a week. If that proves too tiring, or too easy, adjust your time accordingly.

Restored energy. When you feel tired, resting isn't always the answer to restoring energy. The body has a nearly infinite amount of energy, but you need to exercise regularly and eat properly to make that happen. There's no magic pill for it, you have to work your heart, lungs, and muscles to increase energy levels. It’s true: Energy begets energy.

Keeping off unwanted pounds. A study at Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention found that among people who had dieted, the group who went back to eating more but exercised gained back less weight than the group who ate less but didn't exercise. Exercise is crucial to a weight control program.

Brisk walking helps burn excess calories. According to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, increasing walking speed does not burn significantly more calories per mile, but a more vigorous walking pace will produce more dramatic conditioning effects. Muscles in better shape burn more calories, even at rest, than muscles in poor shape. In addition, after a dynamic workout, metabolism levels remain elevated above normal which results in additional calories burned.

Disease prevention. In addition to the benefits of reducing blood pressure, attaining healthy cholesterol levels, and increasing the efficiency of heart and lungs, walking significantly shields against other diseases:

– Osteoporosis. Strength-building exercise, such as walking, is critical in maintaining or increasing calcium levels in the bones of postmenopausal women. Bone, like muscle, is living tissue. When bones are exposed to the stress of physical activity, they become stronger, just as muscles get stronger when demands are placed on them.

– Intestine and colon disorders. Evidence indicates that the intestine and colon muscles are improved and remain in better shape when other body muscles are exercised.

– Blood clots. As we age, the protective protein, TPA, which dissolves stroke and heart attack causing blood clots, drops. Regular exercise can increase TPA levels. In addition, the levels of fibrinogen, another protein that creates the clots, are reduced.

--Respiratory infections. Extra lung power, enhanced by regular exercise, keeps minor respiratory infections from turning into pneumonia.

--Diabetes. A study done by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that being overweight and obese was the single most important risk factor that predicted who would develop Type 2 diabetes. During a 16-year follow-up period, study results showed that regular exercise--at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week--and an improved diet low in fat and high in fiber significantly helped to avoid Type 2 diabetes.

--Colds and flu. A study at Loma Linda University in California reports that people who walked briskly for 45 minutes a day, five times a week, experienced half as many days with cold and flu symptoms as sedentary people in the study.

Although walking shares many benefits of other sports, it offers many advantages. Almost anyone can do it, though it is best to consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. Because walking is virtually injury-free, it has the lowest drop-out rate of any form of exercise.

You need very little equipment other than sturdy shoes. Walking is inexpensive compared to health club fees. You can set your own schedule and not depend on others' timetable. Weather is no obstacle; simply dress accordingly. Walking is not a seasonal activity. You can exercise in temperatures that might rule out other activities. You can walk almost anywhere--sidewalk, street, road, trail, park, field, or even shopping mall. If you walk in the dark, it’s a good idea to wear reflective clothing.

Join the many who are walking toward a healthier, longer, and more satisfying life. Each step you take will improve the quality of your life.

Now, where are my walking shoes?

1 comment:

Terri McIntyre said...

Oh, I have so many bad habits--sitting, smoking, snacking, sitting. I do want to walk and will start as soon as the wind stops blowing juniper pollen around, sending me into sneezing fits. See, another excuse.... Going to try though. Your article inspires me, Mary!