The Benefits of Walking for Heart and Immune Health
Want a healthy heart and to avoid colds and flu? Walk.
Walking is a very underrated and brilliant form of exercise. It's cheap, easy and suitable for all ages. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes and a decent waterproof, and off you trot.
Taking time out for a brisk, daily stroll can benefit your health in a multitude of ways, from a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke to enhancing your mental and emotional wellbeing. Read below for nine ways walking can radically improve your health and wellbeing.
Oh, and aim to do at least 30 minutes every day – breaking it into smaller chunks if you haven't got the time to do it all in one go.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Daily Walk
If you want to get the most out of your daily walk, there are several things you can do to turn it into more of a workout…
1) Pick up your pace to speed up your heart rate.
2) Before you set off, warm up and get your blood flowing to all the muscles you’ll be working. Loosen up with some lunges, gently stretch your inner thighs, quads and hip flexors, and do some leg swings.
3) Set yourself challenges, regularly increasing your walking time and distance.
4) Alternate your speed throughout your walk. Go at a normal pace for a few minutes, then pick a spot in the distance and walk at a faster speed until you reach it – pushing up your heart rate, being only able to talk in short bursts. Repeat as many times as you like.
Keep the periods short at first (one or two minutes) and work your way up as your fitness improves.
5) When it comes to active walking, work those arms, moving them with intent. Keep the movement as fluid as possible, making sure your shoulders and neck are relaxed. Lightly close your fists and position your arms at a right angle, moving them naturally, front to back like a pendulum.
Use your elbows to guide the movement and move your arms rhythmically to propel your stride – opposite arm to leg, i.e. right foot forward with right arm back, and left arm forward.
6) Pick a walk where you cover different terrains and go uphill – your body has to work harder.
7) Be aware of your posture, lengthen your spine and walk tall, engaging your tummy muscles without holding them too tightly. Breathe deeply, tensing them more as you exhale. Evenly distribute your weight across both feet.
8) Learn the Nordic walking technique; it burns more calories, tones the upper and lower body at the same time and utilises 90% of the skeletal muscles. It can be helpful for shoulder, neck and back issues and reduces pressure on the joints and knees.
9) Add stairs into your walking routine.
10) Walk to music with a fast beat to keep your pace up.
11) Don’t forget to stretch at the end!
9 Health Benefits of a Daily Stroll
1) Boosts immunity and protects against colds and flu
Vigorous walking can help protect you from colds and flu, and if you do get ill, it may not last as long.
According to Harvard Medical School, a study with over 1,000 adults found that those who walked for 20 minutes or more every day, five days a week, had 43% less sick days than those who exercised once weekly or less.
If the regular walkers did become ill, their symptoms were milder and were over more quickly.
2) Walking may help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s
A study published in 2011 found that frequent walking may slow cognitive decline in healthy adults, those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s patients.
In this ongoing 20-year study with 462 adults (a mixture of healthy and cognitively impaired individuals, and people with Alzheimer’s), at the 10-year mark, researchers noted that walking five miles per week protects the brain structure – particularly in the key learning and memory centres of the brain.
The study also found that those with Alzheimer’s and MCI had a slower decline in memory loss over five years.
3) It may reduce the risk of breast cancer
In an extensive 17-year study by the American Cancer Society of over of 73,000 postmenopausal women, data suggests that an hour or more a day of walking lowers breast cancer risk by 14%. The results were gathered from 47% of women in the study who reported that walking was their only form of exercise and compared to women walking only three hours or less a week.
According to the researchers, walking also protects women at higher risk of breast cancer for reasons such as using hormone supplements or being overweight.
4) A daily walk can improve sleep
A 4-week randomised controlled trial published by the National Sleep Foundation enrolled 59 male and female participants and measured their daily steps using Fitbits. The patients self-reported their sleep quality and duration daily, both before, during and after the study. Active walking minutes were positively reflected in the sleep quality (but not the length).
Women who took more steps had a better night’s sleep than those who did less. For both sexes, on the days where they were more active than usual, an improvement in both sleep quality and duration was noted.
Another 4-week walking intervention stuxdy carried out on 429 people in the Japanese workplace, also had positive results. The walking target was 10,000 steps per day.
During the trial, participants who already had regular exercise habits reported improved sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), quality and duration. In those who had no exercise regimen to begin with, the improvement in all aspects of their sleep was even more marked.
5) Supports joints and reduces arthritic pain
Many studies support the role of regular walking for reducing joint pain.
Research shows that arthritic patients who take daily walks have increased confidence, less depression, health distress and pain.
Walking can improve circulation and strengthen muscles. The movement of walking helps joint fluid to circulate, getting oxygen and valuable nutrients to the joints like the knees and hips where they are desperately needed.
According to Harvard Health, walking five to six miles a week may even prevent the onset of arthritis.
6) Improves heart health
It’s common knowledge that any form of aerobic exercise, including brisk walking, is beneficial for cardiovascular health.
In 2009, researchers looked at studies done between 1954 and 2007 on walking and coronary heart disease (CHD) prevention. Pooled data from the 11 studies that met the inclusion criteria indicated that around 30 minutes of walking per day for five days a week was associated with a 19% reduced risk of CHD.
It was discovered that CHD risk decreases as walking increases, and the researchers suggested that walking should be prescribed as a preventative for the general population.
According to Harvard Health, another report pooling findings from several well-performed studies showed that walking reduced cardiovascular events by 31% and cut the risk of dying by 32%.
Applicable to both men and women, positive results showed at just 5.5 miles per week at a moderate pace of two miles per hour. The faster the speed and longer the walk, the greater the heart health benefits.
7) Balance blood sugar, reduce sugar cravings and reduce diabetes risk
According to a small study published by the American Diabetes Association, 15-minute bouts of moderate post-meal walking can improve 24-hour glycemic control in older people at risk for impaired glucose tolerance. It was found that while both were effective, there were better blood glucose results from 15-minute post-meal bursts compared to a single 45-minute walk during the day.
Research shows that walking can reduce chocolate cravings in healthy people, and another small study tested this theory on 47 overweight sugary-snack consumers.
After three days abstaining from chocolate, the participants were then asked not to eat, drink (except water) or exercise for two hours before each assessment. The assessments were performed on separate days, seven days apart. They involved either walking for 15 minutes or sitting passively, with no conversation or stimulation, in the laboratory for 15 minutes.
After completing these tasks, their stress levels were measured when unwrapping and handling sweet sugary snacks of their choice for 30 seconds.
Researchers found that short bouts of walking reduced sugar cravings in the overweight participants compared to the passive sitting. So, when you get the urge to eat sugary snacks, taking a short brisk walk could be enough to curb the desire.
It could also be a valuable tool when it comes to breaking the habit of reaching for sugary snacks when stressed or when in the presence of chocolate and treats.
8) It’s an excellent energy booster and mood enhancer
Like any form of exercise, walking boosts your energy by improving circulation and oxygenating your body. Being active is very beneficial for your mental and emotional wellbeing. It helps to reduce the risk of depression, eases anxiety, improves your mood and helps to reduce the symptoms of depression.
If you can walk in nature, it enhances the effects, as getting out into green open spaces can increase your strength and vitality. Being in nature raises immunity, reduces inflammation and relieves stress.
9) Increases longevity
The American Cancer Society has found that even a little walking can lower mortality risk. In the study, researchers examined data from 140,000 people with an average age of 69. They found that even participants who walked for less than two hours a week had a lower death risk than those who didn’t exercise at all.
Those who met the American Cancer Society recommendations (by walking) of 150 minutes moderate exercise or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity had a 20% lower mortality risk.
The most marked results showed in the prevention of respiratory disease-related deaths (more than six hours of walking per week was associated with a 35% lower risk). Cardiovascular mortality was also significantly lower among walkers.
Walking is one of the most versatile forms of exercise. It’s suitable for all ages, and you can do it almost anywhere – no expensive gym membership required!
It can have a profound effect on your overall health and wellbeing and can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and depression. It can also improve symptoms of all of these.
Taking a daily walk can uplift your mood, help slow the progression of cognitive decline and potentially reduce the risk of breast cancer. If you’re struggling to sleep, incorporating a daily walk, even on top of your regular exercise regimen, could be the difference between a good or bad night’s rest.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to hit the road.
This article is by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, a Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
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Taking a daily #walk can uplift your mood, help slow the progression of cognitive decline and potentially reduce the risk of breast cancer.