What Are the Benefits of Walking?


by W. Gifford-Jones, MD and Diana Gifford-Jones

Dr. Paul Dudley White, former Professor of Cardiology at the Harvard Medical School, used to ride his bike to class even in his later years. He remarked, “If you want to see how good your brain is, feel your leg muscles!” Biking may not be for everyone, but research shows the simple act of walking is tremendously good for you. Stronger brain and leg muscles are just the beginning. If COVID has got you hunkered down, you’d do well to get out in fresh air for a daily walk.

Metabolic benefits:

A study in Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology reports that a brisk walk can decrease the risk of hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease just as much as running. This is good news for those who dislike running. Besides, walkers can be more social as they go along, which is itself a boost to good health. People who socialize with friends tend to enjoy better health than loners. A routine with walking companions might lead to longer walks, and the further the distance the greater the health effect.

Walking prevents more than heart attack:

Another study reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology says a brisk walk decreases the risk of heart failure in postmenopausal women. This study lasted 10 years and involved 90,000 women. Its focus was a step in the right direction given the dearth of research on women’s heart health. The same positive result for men who make walking a habit is well known.

Tie up a ship too long and it gets barnacles. A study in Physiological Reports shows that inactivity creates similar problems for humans. Sitting for prolonged periods of time results in “endothelial dysfunction”. Arteries become rigid, making it more difficult for them to contract and relax. This results in reduced blood flow and cardiovascular complications associated with decreased oxygenated blood reaching the kidneys and other organs.

Improved blood sugar level:

A study in Diabetology International showed that middle aged people who walked daily had lower blood sugar, decreased blood pressure, and healthier waist size. Don’t let COVID distract you from other killers. Obesity and diabetes wipe out life for thousands of people daily. Why don’t authorities like the World Health Organization sound the alarms and urge people to get moving as a strategy to prevent these lifestyle diseases?

Less back pain:

A study in the journal, Disability and Rehabilitation, revealed an interesting finding for those suffering from chronic back pain. Walking is just as effective in reducing pain, disability, and improving quality of life as workouts specifically designed for relieving back pain.

Improved knee osteoporosis:

Many people with knee osteoporosis believe exercise will aggravate this condition. But the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports that a study of 1,566 people who exercised for one hour a week for four years had decreased knee pain compared to those who were relatively inactive.

Increased creativity, mood, and stress reduction:

Who does not feel better when walking a scenic path or a trail in the woods? Several studies show a reduction in cortisol, the hormone produced in response to stress, among people who walk in the woods. If you want to get creative, the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests “give your ideas some legs.”

But how much walking? Years ago, a Japanese report suggested that 10,000 steps a day was the magic number for maintaining good health. This figure is easier to achieve during good weather months. At other times, you may have to bundle up and find safe routes or go to indoor spaces conducive for walking, like shopping malls or sports facilities with indoor tracks.

Happy trails!

Common Sense Health
Local Writer with National Reach

W. Gifford-Jones, MD and Diana Gifford-Jones

The weekly column by W. Gifford-Jones, MD has been published in newspapers across Canada for 45 years. Rarely the conformist, he comments on the key health-related issues of the day and explains new medical research in easy-to-understand language, often with a touch of humour. The same no-nonsense tradition now continues in a father-daughter collaboration. Diana, daughter of W. Gifford-Jones, lives in Merrickville, and brings her own perspectives on global health and health determinants. The NG Times is proud to offer readers this new health column in our pages.



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