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9 Ways Walking Will Boost Your Health

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9 Ways Walking Will Boost Your Health

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Three million people die every year worldwide due to physical inactivity, according to the World Health Organization. That is a stunning amount of lives lost through one of the most preventable causes!

Yet in increasingly busy and stressful times, we all know how difficult it is to take the time to get active. Whether it is getting to the gym or sticking with a consistent routine, it can be a challenge to commit to daily exercise.

However, as the oft-quoted Chinese proverb states, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” There are small, incremental changes we can make every day to combat the detriments of a sedentary life—and the solution lies quite literally in this saying: start walking.

Walking is one of the most underestimated forms of exercise and is often the last to come to mind when considering fitness activities. However, there is a growing body of evidence showing just how valuable walking is to your physical and mental health, and how this one activity can lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.

When examining these proven benefits as well as how easy it is to incorporate walking in daily routines, you will look forward to your next opportunity to lace up your shoes and take a stroll! Following are nine major benefits to your physical and mental health.

(1) Increase Cardiorespiratory Efficiency: Walking is an aerobic activity, meaning it conditions the heart and lungs to improve circulation and better distribute oxygen throughout the body. As you move, the muscles engaged create a higher demand for oxygen and therefore your circulatory system must work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood to the tissue. Repeatedly challenging the heart in this way strengthens the organ’s muscles to control blood flow more efficiently.

While there are many aerobic exercises such as running and biking that can stimulate the circulatory system, walking has the advantage of being a low-impact activity that can be done at any time, anywhere. A recent six-year study has even shown that habitually taking a brisk stroll resulted in similar risk reductions for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and coronary heart disease as running, according to a report in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. In some instances, walking actually had a higher rate of reduction in these risk factors than running.

Another study published by the Current Opinion in Cardiology found that those who walked approximately 30 minutes every day lowered their risk of coronary heart disease by 19 percent.

(2) Strengthen Musculoskeletal Health: Prolonged sitting and inactivity can lead to muscle tightening and degeneration, which can cause pain throughout the body as the inflexible muscle fibers put undue tension on joints. Much like periodically running a machine or engine will help keep it running smoothly, incorporating regular physical activity by walking will help the musculoskeletal system work efficiently and keep muscle fibers pliable from consistent use.

Walking is not only an aerobic activity, but it also engages multiple muscle groups. When you vary speed and terrain, you could create a good strength-training program for a whole-body workout to tone muscles and burn fat—especially if you also add in some weights.

Additionally, a study in BioMed Research International showed that walking limited the progression of bone loss. Bone is made up of living tissue that is strengthened during exercise, particularly with weight-bearing activities that force the body to work against gravity. And according to research by Arthritis Research & Therapy, walking is a good low-impact activity that reduces the severity of rheumatoid arthritis by helping lower inflammation and the advancement of this inflammatory disease in the joints.

(3) Reduce Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Glucose is a simple sugar that the cells throughout the body metabolize as fuel to carry out their daily functions. When we eat carbohydrates, our body breaks the food down into glucose that is distributed through the blood stream. However, for those with diabetes, the body’s ability to regulate the amount of glucose in the bloodstream is impaired and having too much glucose in the blood can result in damage to other tissues.

Physical activity helps to regulate the body’s blood sugar levels as the muscle fibers and other cells that help us move need to use more fuel. Research published in the World Journal of Diabetes shows that those who walked for at least 30 minutes per day lowered their risk of Type 2 diabetes by around 50 percent. They also found that physical activity is helpful in managing blood sugar levels in those with Type 1 diabetes.

(4) Manage Weight: When our body has excess blood sugars that are not needed to fuel cell functions, they are stored for later use in the form of fat.

To maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, we must regulate the amount of calories we take in through our diet as well as burn through physical activity. A study in the Journal of Nutrition recorded that moderate walking enhanced the loss of fat and balance of blood sugars.

An article from Cleveland Clinic also explained how walking can help us curb cravings for sugar: “Recent findings from the University of Exeter show that walking can curtail the hankering for sugar, both during the walk and for about 10 minutes afterward. Researchers’ findings suggest walking ultimately helps people lose weight not only by getting your heart and metabolism up but also by curbing those cravings for sugary snacks, like chocolate. By taking a short walk, the study found people are able to regulate their daily sugary treats intake—often by as much as half.”

(5) Lower Stress and Strengthen Stress Resilience: Every day we face challenges and pressures whether from work, school or other responsibilities, and stress is our body’s natural response to these experiences. Hormones are released that cause our pulse to quicken, muscles to tense for action, and the brain to increase activity and oxygen demand. These are the same hormones that trigger our “fight-or-flight” response in dangerous situations. In non-life-threatening circumstances, this stress can help us be more motivated and focused.

However, if this response occurs continuously from day to day, it will put a strain on our bodies and potentially lead to serious health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, indigestion, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability and other complications. Walking lowers stress by allowing us time to think and to take a break from stressors. This activity also triggers the release of endorphins, a hormone known to relieve stress and pain as well as help produce feelings of well-being and happiness.

Taking time to go on regular walks will alleviate stress as well as help you handle future stressful situations. A recent study released in the Journal of Neuroscience discovered that regular exercise can strengthen our resilience to stressors. Researchers found that an increase in the neural protein galanin from aerobic activity in mice not only influenced stress levels but also lowered anxious response to future stimuli.

(6) Boost Mood and Relieve Depression: In addition to lessening stress, walking will boost your mood and help you cope with feelings of depression. An article by NBC News reported, “One study found that just 12 minutes of walking resulted in an increase in joviality, vigor, attentiveness and self-confidence versus the same time spent sitting.”

The article later stated that “psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression also suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety and boosting mood.”

Dr. Melina B. Jampolis explains in Prevention magazine, “Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you’ll experience a decrease in anger and hostility.”

(7) Better Sleep: A report in the journal Sleep Health found that walking improved sleep quality and duration for the participants of a month-long study compared to those who were sedentary. Exercise is known to be a natural way to elevate melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating our sleep cycle. While research is limited regarding exactly how these two are related, studies have shown that aerobic activities increase the amount of restorative deep sleep the body needs to rejuvenate. Part of this is likely due to the other health benefits from walking, such as stabilizing mood to help with the natural transition into rest.

(8) Improve Mental Acuity and Combat Alzheimer’s: Taking a stroll is one way to enhance your mental acuity, or your brain’s ability to increase memory, focus and comprehension. Multiple studies have shown how walking sharpened thinking skills by promoting functional connectivity and the transmission of messages between neurons, slowing deterioration of neural tissue, and even stimulating the growth of new brain cells.

Researchers at New Mexico Highlands University found that the foot’s impact during walking sends pressure waves through the arteries that significantly modify the supply of blood to the brain. Also, aerobically demanding activities like walking increase a brain-derived protein critical for nerve development that impacts the structural remodeling and connections associated with learning. It also influences the resilience to aging and recovery in brain tissue caused by injury or disease.

According to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, walking may slow mental decline in adults with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in healthy adults.

“We found that walking five miles per week protects the brain structure over 10 years in people with Alzheimer’s and MCI, especially in areas of the brain’s key memory and learning centers,” said Dr. Cyrus Raji from the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. “We also found that these people had a slower decline in memory loss over five years.”

(9) Increase Creativity: If you find yourself struggling with a creative solution to a task, going for a walk can boost your ingenuity. An NBC News article explains: “One Stanford University study found that walking increased creative output by an average of 60 percent. Researchers labelled this type of creativity ‘divergent thinking,’ which they define as a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. According to the study, ‘walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.’”

Wherever you live, simply walking is enough to benefit your mind. Consider this passage from a Guardian article: “In order to walk and navigate, the brain flickers between regions, just as our waking minds are often, says [neuroscientist Shane O’Mara], ‘flickering between big-picture states—thinking about what we have to do tomorrow, plans for next year…and task-focused work. And you need to flicker between these states in order to do creative work.’ That’s how important associations get made, and this flickering seems to be bolstered by walking.

“It’s part of the reason, O’Mara suspects, that the prolific writer and thinker Bertrand Russell said that walking was integral to his work. Likewise, the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, who pondered a single problem on his daily walks for seven years, eventually inventing a number system called quaternions, without which we couldn’t make electric toothbrushes or mobile phones.”

“It’s part of the reason, O’Mara suspects, that the prolific writer and thinker Bertrand Russell said that walking was integral to his work. Likewise, the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, who pondered a single problem on his daily walks for seven years, eventually inventing a number system called quaternions, without which we couldn’t make electric toothbrushes or mobile phones.”

These scenarios show that sometimes getting away is just what you need to be more productive and efficient.

Power of the Outdoors

The benefits of simply walking illustrate just how impactful it is on our health. But where we walk can make a difference as well. There is something about nature—especially among forests and near flowing water—that boosts brain activity.

A study from the American Psychological Association found that those who walked outside had much more creative responses on tests than those who were indoors. Another study by the Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine journal reported that walking in nature promoted “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.”

Additional research out of Japan shows that walking in the woods also may play a role in fighting cancer. Plants emit chemicals called phytoncides that protect them from rotting and insects. When people breathe them in, there is an increase in the level of “natural killer” cells, which are part of a person’s immune response to cancer.

“When we walk in a forest or park, our levels of white blood cells increase and it also lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and level of the stress hormone cortisol,” said Dr. Aaron Michelfelder, professor of family medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Taking even a few minutes to break away from the busyness of our daily schedules to stroll in nature can significantly improve our overall well-being.

A Principle of Health

Many things in life are governed by laws, and the simplest and often forgotten law is that of cause and effect—especially when it comes to our health. The World Health Organization reported that physical inactivity is the fourth-leading cause of global morbidity. In other words, a sedentary life leads to a host of health issues, complications and premature death.

Certain situations are unavoidable. For example, working at an office job and being stuck at a desk for eight hours a day requires some creativity to avoid some of the issues stemming from prolonged inactivity. However, we do have the choice on what we do about it. This touches on one core principle of good health—getting active.

Our booklet God’s Principles of Healthful Living explains this vital principle: “God’s physical creation is governed by definite, physical laws. These include laws that regulate our bodies. To be healthy, you must follow them. But when they are broken, sickness results.

“When a person breaks these principles and laws of health—whether through omission or negligence—the body suffers. Among the negative results are malnutrition, atrophy from inactivity, or exhaustion from lack of rest—simple cause and effect.”

“Good health is a precious attribute,” the booklet continues. “You must maintain it. Otherwise, it deteriorates. Traditional living habits and environments are hostile to good health. Unless you make an effort to protect and maintain it, good health could easily disappear—even at an early ageActivity—exercise—is the missing vital element in the lives of most, who need to reactivate their physical being through exercise. Once this is addressed, more steps can be taken to upgrade and revitalize the body. And each of these steps yields worthwhile benefits.”

Start Today!

As we have seen, these steps yield immediate benefits to our health.

Findings published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology showed that adding just two minutes of walking each hour lowered mortality risks by 33 percent. No gym equipment or special memberships are needed—just remind yourself to take a quick stroll and you can start reaping the rewards!

You have the choice to invest in the improvement of your well-being. The many benefits outlined in this article show the difference this one easy habit can make.

There is no time like today to get started. So get up, lace up your shoes and go for a walk!

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