Walking offers more benefits than just exercise

Walking around regularly just makes a lot of sense if you want to keep off that extra weight and to increase your longevity. Walkers have a smaller incidence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other killer diseases. They live longer and get mental health and spiritual benefits.

Walking benefits brain power, improves mood and helps ward off depression, and allows you to connect more deeply with your spiritual side and with your loved ones.

“The summer heat in the Verde Valley can zap people’s interest in walking for health, unless they plan their walks for early morning, shaded areas or create an indoor walking schedule in an air-conditioned place,” suggests Carla Hover, the Yavapai County Community Health Services Coordinator.

“Walking can be the foundation or springboard for other physical activities or it can be an essential way for people recovering from illness or injury to regain conditioning, flexibility and an overall feeling of well-being.”

Walking is a form of physical activity that allows people to leave stressors behind and move forward to investigate and explore. The simple joy of talking with people while walking and sensing how our bodies respond to daily walks is incentive by itself.

Plenty of studies verify those results

Walking slows mental decline. A study of 6,000 women, ages 65 and older, performed by the University of California, San Francisco, found that age-related memory decline was lower in those who walked more. The women walking 2.5 miles per day had a 17-percent decline in memory, as opposed to a 25-percent decline in women who walked less than a half-mile per week.

Walking lowers Alzheimer’s risk. A study from the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville found that men between the ages of 71 and 93 who walked more than a quarter of a mile per day had half the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Walking improves sleep. A study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that women, ages 50 to 75, who took one-hour morning walks, were more likely to relieve insomnia than women who didn’t walk.

Walking lightens mood. Research reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking 30 minutes a day boosted the moods in depressed patients faster than antidepressants. Why? Walking releases natural pain­killing endorphins to the body – one of the emotional benefits of exercise. A California State University, Long Beach, study showed that the more steps people took during the day, the better their moods were.

Walking 30 minutes daily provides many health benefits:

Protects bone health and slows progression of osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass that often leads to fractures.

Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer, third most common cancer in men and women, according to the CDC.

Helps maintain a healthy body weight

Lowers risks of developing high blood pressure and helps people who have already developed hypertension

Helps older adults maintain flexibility, balance, muscle strength and tone, important to avoiding accidental falls

How to make daily walks easier to manage.

Keep shoes, sunscreen, and hat in your car or at work for when you want to go for a walk.

Invite a friend to join in for regular walks, and put the walking activity into your calendar or planner.

Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Cover up or use DEET insect repellent if mosquitoes are likely, especially when walking after dark or early in the morning.

Don’t be hard on yourself if important events or weather hamper your ability to stick to the schedule perfectly.

Think about your progress and write a series of goals that will help monitor your progress.

Soon the daily walks will give you energy to tackle gardening projects or complete your daily activities with time to spare. The gains in cardiovascular conditioning may encourage you to add hours of dancing, tennis or other fun physical activities.

Walking daily can help people increase their intensity level of physical activity, allowing men and women of all ages to gradually and safely improve their fitness.

Regular exercise and physical activity protect and strengthen the knee joints. Medical doctors generally advise people to save their knees by using them, but if you have been physically inactive for awhile, consider yourself overweight or obese or have knee pain, you should be medically evaluated before starting an exercise program.

Bodies function well if we listen to what it is saying. Respond early to signals from the body that it needs more physical activity can redefine the aging process and add much enjoyment to life.

For information on community walking programs available through Yavapai County Community Health Services, call 649-5063 in Cottonwood or 442-5567 in Prescott. The Arizona Take-Charge Challenge begins in mid-September. It is a 12-week activity program for adults that encourages people to pull teams to get active and moving. In 2009, 27 team throughout the county last year that included 300 people.

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