The Most Underrated Form of Exercise

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By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

July 4, 2018

  • Walking is an underrated form of exercise
  • 3 ways to get the biggest benefits from a long walk
  • Here’s how to get started

You walk from your house to the mailbox… from parking lots to buildings … and troll the mall on occasion. But how often do you walk, just for the sake of walking?

With all of today’s modern conveniences, it’s not surprising that walking is an extremely underrated form of exercise. And the truth is, many people don’t realize that walking is just as important as other, more taxing forms of physical activity.

Walking helps lower blood pressure, heart rate and body mass. It boosts lung function, helps reduce – and even prevent – symptoms of depression, and lowers your risk of diabetes.

It’s also an excellent way to maintain muscle strength, muscle volume and blood flow in your legs. (This is something you want to keep in mind as you age, because weak muscles and restricted blood flow in your extremities can impair your balance and stability when you get older.)

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3 Ways to get the Biggest Benefits from Your Walks

Walking is one of the first exercises I prescribe for my patients. Just 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 in the evening are great for your health, weight and longevity. But before you lace up your sneakers and head out the door, I have a few tips to make your walking experience the best one you can get.

First and foremost, the speed at which you walk can have a huge impact on your results. For example, men and women who walk the slowest have a 10-year survival rate of just 19% to 35%.  In the meantime, those who walk the most briskly have survival rates of 87% to 91% over the course of the next 10 years.

So whenever you walk, don’t stroll. Put a little pep in your step to make it a more vigorous activity.

Second, think about your route. You can easily stick with sidewalks and walking paths. But you can really kick up the intensity of your walk by heading for some uneven terrain.

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Find a path that goes uphill, downhill and has multiple twists and turns.  If you’re up for it, you might even try hiking. Walking on these kinds of terrain increases the amount of knee and hip work involved in taking a step forward, and boosts muscle activity in seven different muscles in your legs and thighs.

Third, pick a walking route that contains a lot of natural scenery. These brief walking encounters with nature help reverse negative thoughts and decrease activity in a part of the brain associated with depression and mood disorders.

Walking in nature also boosts creativity, productivity, energy levels and feelings of liveliness. Just imagine how much more you can get done each day when your brain is thriving and you’re feeling great!

Keeping Safety in Mind when You Walk

One of the great things about walking is that it doesn’t require any fancy equipment or attire. You only need a pair of comfortable walking shoes and you’re ready to go.

But there are a few things you should keep in mind to help you get started off on the right foot:

  • Get your doctor’s okay before starting a walking program, especially if you have a chronic health condition.
  • If you’re walking in the early morning or evening when it may be dark, invest in reflective apparel and bring a mini-flashlight so you can see what’s ahead of you.
  • Find a walking buddy to join you. The more the merrier! You’ll be more inclined to walk every day if you know others are expecting you. Plus, there is safety in numbers.
  • Warm up before your walk by marching in place for two to three minutes to raise your heart rate slowly.
  • Once you are warmed up, do light stretching before walking, focusing on your thighs, calves and hamstrings, as well as the muscles in your upper body.
  • After your walk, stretch your muscles while they are warmed up and limber, especially the major muscles of your legs, back, hips and shoulders.

Remember to walk briskly. You can even throw in a jog or sprint every now and then. Your body will be all the healthier for it, and your brain all the happier.

SOURCES:

Hanson S, et al. Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2015 Jun;49(11):710-5.

Qiu S, Cet al. Impact of walking on glycemic control and other cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2014 Oct 17;9(10):e109767.

Studenski S, et al. Gait speed and survival in older adults. JAMA. 2011 Jan 5;305(1):50-8. Hardy SE, et al.

Improvement in usual gait speed predicts better survival in older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2007 Nov;55(11):1727-34.

Voloshina AS, et al. Biomechanics and energetics of walking on uneven terrain. J Exp Biol. 2013 Nov 1; 216(21): 3963–3970.

Bratman GN, et al. Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jul 14;112(28):8567-72.

Marily Oppezzo, Daniel L. Schwartz. Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 2014; 40(4):1142–1152.

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