Walking: 10 big health benefits


Walking: 10 big health benefits

Walking doesn’t take a big financial investment or gym membership, but the rewards are many.
Not only is walking good for the heart and blood pressure, but research shows this low-impact exercise can reduce the risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and improve cognition, sleep and mood.
“Many people don’t realize how beneficial walking can be for improving physical and mental health,” says Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Michelle McCauley, who practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Andrews.

Many benefits

Regular walking can help:

  1. Improve cardiovascular fitness
  2. Improve endurance
  3. Strengthen/tone muscles
  4. Strengthen bones
  5. Improve cognition, sleep and mood
  6. Boost immune system function
  7. Improve blood circulation
  8. Lower blood pressure
  9. Maintain a healthy weight
  10. Reduce stress and anxiety

If you are beginning a new exercise routine, be sure to speak with your physician to develop with a plan to address your unique health needs.

Build up over time

In general, it’s a good idea to take it slow in the beginning, especially if you haven’t been active. 

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Start out walking for up to 30 minutes one or two times a week, then gradually increase to five times a week to hit the 150 minutes of moderate activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To maximize the benefits, walk faster, farther and more often, varying your route to include hills and downward slopes.

Be prepared

Once you’ve decided to commit to walking as part of your routine, you’ll need to invest in good walking shoes, dress appropriately and choose a place where you can safely walk. Consider the following:

  • Dress the part. Find shoes that are comfortable and provide stability. Look for footwear that fits well. Shoes should have adequate cushioning, traction on the bottom and be made of a breathable material to prevent the buildup of moisture that can lead to blisters.
  • Wear moisture-wicking clothing and layers when walking. If walking at dawn or dusk, walk in a well-lit area and consider wearing bright colors or reflective tape for visibility.
  • Use an activity tracker or app on your cell phone to log your distance, time, heart rate and calories burned. These apps can help keep you motivated and inspired.
  • Plan your course. To prevent falls or tripping, walk on even ground and watch for low-lying limbs and sidewalk cracks. To create more of a challenge, vary your course to include hills and downward slopes.
  • Stretch before and after walking. Get your blood flowing and warm up your muscles by walking casually for the first five minutes before accelerating into a brisk walk. To cool down, slow your pace for five to 10 minutes at the end of your walk.

The importance of form

Maintaining good posture and form is important when walking to help prevent pain in the neck and back. Dr. McCauley recommends the following technique:

  • Walk with your head held high facing forward and not toward the ground.
  • Shoulders should be held back to avoid slouching.
  • Elbows should be bent so your arms swing naturally.
  • Feet should roll from heel to toe on the ground.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles slightly tight and your back straight.

Stay motivated

A regular exercise routine requires commitment. Consider these tips to stay inspired:

  • Add variety. Once you are in the groove of exercising regularly, consider including intervals of higher intensity walking or jogging to challenge yourself and maintain your interest.
  • Make it fun. Ask a friend to be your walking partner or consider joining a walking group. For added entertainment, listen to a podcast or your favorite music while you walk.
  • Mix it up. Have several different walking routes to vary your scenery and course. Choose areas that are well lit and feature hills or stairs to include a variety of challenges. Can’t walk outdoors because of the weather? Visit the mall and stroll around the interior perimeter. If you’ve got a walking partner, take turns walking in each other’s neighborhood or plan a trip to a park to stroll through nature.

Dr. Michelle McCauley is a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Andrews. She is accepting new patients.

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