At a time when extreme sports are all the hype, mundane activities like walking don’t get much attention. It’s just too basic, too boring to even think about it. Yet walking can be a great indicator of both physical and mental well being.
In addition, walking is considered by health experts as one of the most effective ways to stay fit and fend off illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, and even dementia.
A recent study from England found that taking a long walk every day can help decrease the risk of stroke, especially in older men. It doesn’t seem to matter as much how fast someone walks, just how often and for how long.
“Our study suggests that maintaining an active lifestyle, specifically by spending more time on all forms of walking, could be an important part of stroke prevention strategies in older people,” said Dr. Barbara J. Jefferis, a epidemiologist from University College London and lead author of the study, in an interview with Reuters.
According to her findings, men who walked four to seven hours each week were 11 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who walked three hours or less. Participants in the study who walked the most – more than three hours daily – had a 60-percent lower risk than those who spent the least amount of time walking.
Although this particular study included only men, there is no reason to assume that walking wouldn’t benefit women in similar ways.
Walking seems to provide other advantages as well. A number of studies have found that losing the ability to walk at a reasonably brisk pace can be an indication not just for physical but also mental decline. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic looked at stride length, cadence and velocity of older adults and concluded that gait changes and slowing pace can be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of age-related dementia. Some of these effects may be delayed, if not prevented, in people who maintain a regular walking regimen.
Of course, there is no need to wait until old age to take up walking as a form of exercise. At any time in life, going on hikes or just strolls around the block can help with overall fitness, weight management, bone and muscle strength, balance and flexibility, and also stress management, sleep, and emotional wellbeing.
Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans are notoriously averse to walking and prefer driving even for short distances. This is especially true in rural areas and cities that lack a walkable infrastructure. Nevertheless, in its recommendations for greater public health, the agency urges everyone to get a minimum of two and a half hours moderate exercise per week. It may take some creativity and rethinking of lifestyle, but the sooner you start, the better the results will be, now and long-term.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog at www.timigustafson.com.