Hate to exercise? Just walking can help keep you healthy

Walking with a group of friends will help make exercising more fun and ensure that you keep to your workout commitment. — Filepic

I have bad knees. I tried to go running, but my knees hurt too much, so I stopped. I heard walking is also a good form of exercise. Is this true?

Yes, it is a very good form of exercise, especially for those who cannot do more strenuous forms of exercise.

I have an anecdote to share on walking.

My grandmother was extremely healthy and the only form of exercise she did was walking.

She would walk to the shops to buy lunch every day, walk to the bus station to take a bus and walk to visit her friends.

She did this her whole life until she was 84 years old.

That year, she slipped, fell and broke her hip.

She could not walk after that and she started to deteriorate physically and mentally.

Aside from the accident, all that walking was wonderful for her health – she suffered from very few diseases her entire life.

How can walking improve my health?

A daily brisk walk has been reported to help you do the following:

  • Maintain your weight

    Naturally, you also need to eat appropriately and not exceed what a person of your age, gender and physical activity needs.

    But walking can certainly help burn off some excess calories.
  • Prevent or minimise heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes

    It has been found by researchers at Harvard University in the United States that post-menopausal women who walked just one to two miles (1.6km to 3.2km) a day could lower their blood pressure by 11 points in six months.

    Women who walk 30 minutes a day can reduce their risk of stroke by 20%, and if they walk briskly, their risk will be reduced by 40%.
  • Strengthen your bones and musculature

    One study showed that walking can stop the loss of bone mass for those with osteoporosis.

    In another study, it was found that 30 minutes of walking a day reduced the risk of hip fractures in post-menopausal women by 40%.
  • Improve your cognition and memory

    Research has found that walking can help to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and to slow down its development if you have it.
  • Improve your balance and coordination
  • Improve your mood and sleep
  • Help you live a longer life
You mean I can live longer by just walking alone?

Yes, research has shown that people who walk regularly in their 50s and 60s are 35% less likely to die within the next eight years than those who do not walk.

The faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits for you.

How does walking improve my mood and sleep?

Walking releases endorphins into your brain. That will give you a “high”.

The faster and longer you walk, the greater this “high” will be.

Studies have found that people between ages 50 and 75 who take one-hour morning walks were more likely to have their insomnia relieved, compared to those who did not.

Does walking really help me stave off Alzheimer’s disease?

Yes, a study in California, US, showed that women aged 65 and above who walked 18 miles (29km) a week had a 17% decline in their memory, as opposed to a 25% decline for those who walked less than half a mile (0.8km) a week.

The same goes for men.

A study showed that men between the ages of 71 and 93 who walked less than 0.25 miles (0.4km) a day had 1.8 times higher risk of dementia, compared to men who walked more than 2 miles (3.2km) a day.

Meanwhile, research presented at the 2011 Radiological Society of North America conference that looked into the association between walking and Alzheimer’s disease found that increased physical activity was associated with greater brain volume.

The researchers reported that walking at least five miles (8km) a week helped those with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease to maintain their brain volume and slow down the development of the disease.

For healthy adults, walking at least six miles (9.7km) a week helped to maintain their brain volume and significantly reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Is there a proper walking technique?

Yes, always hold your head up high; look ahead and not at the ground (although please look at the ground if it is uneven!).

Keep your back straight; do not slouch and tighten your stomach muscles.

Swing your arms while bending your elbows slightly.

Walk by rolling your heel to toe.

Relax your neck, shoulders and back while you walk.

And wear proper walking shoes, not slippers or sandals.

But what if it rains? Anyway, I hate walking!

Remember that you can walk anywhere, not just outdoors. Walking outdoors just happens to be nicer.

You can walk in a shopping mall or walk to the LRT station on your way to work.

You can walk on a treadmill in a gym or at home.

You can start by setting simple walking goals for yourself.

Certain insurance companies even offer rewards such as lower premiums, cashback, or retail or product discounts or vouchers, if you hit physical activity targets like a certain number of steps within a specific time period.

Just set aside time for some short sessions of activity during your day. Any activity is better than nothing.

Then aim for 30 minutes of walking a day.

When you are comfortable doing this, then you can increase your walking time to hit the recommended 10,000 steps a day.

Everything takes initiative.

You can make walking more fun by forming or joining a walking group, listening to music while you walk, or going on different walking routes each time to explore your surroundings.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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