Walking is man’s best medicine

It was Hippocrates who came up with the statement, “Walking is man’s best medicine” and he was so right.  Since his time until today, walking is still the best physical activity the majority of people can do to benefit their health.  Other than a good pair of walking shoes, it’s inexpensive, can be done most anywhere and you can do it on your own time and pace.

The more a person walks, the greater the health perks.  Even if you are just beginning a walking program, every little bit helps making a significant difference to your health.

There are three benefits walking provides that particularly stand out – reduced mortality, reduced heart failure risk and improved cognitive functioning.

·         Reduced mortality – When it comes to extending our lives, walking is one way we can manipulate that factor.  Studies are showing that when a sedentary person begins walking for exercise regularly, just going from 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day can reduce their mortality by 12%.  Those who log at least 10,000 steps a day cut their risk by 46%.  A study out of Australia followed more than 2,500 Australians with an average age of 59 for over 10 years and found that the more steps one achieved in a day, the higher their mortality rate.

Studies like this demonstrate the power of walking and of being physically active to help extend our life.

·         Reduced heart failure risk – Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart is unable to supply enough blood to meet the body’s demands.  More than 5.1 million Americans have this condition. 

Studies have shown a linear relationship between increased physical activity and reduced heart failure risk.  People who take up walking for physical activity at the current minimum recommendation of 150 minutes a week had a modest reduction in the rate of heart failure.  But those who doubled their activity time or increased the intensity level or a combination of both had a 20% lower risk of heart failure.  If a person quadrupled the minimum recommendation, there was even a greater reduction of 35%. 

·         Improved cognitive functioning – Our brain benefits big time from regular daily walks which improves our aerobic fitness.   A study published in NeuroImage, linked aerobic fitness in older men to more efficient brain activity.   A total of 60 men ages 64 to 75 who had no signs of cognitive impairment, were recruited by researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan and were tested for their aerobic fitness.  Each man performed a submaximal incremental exercise test to determine their oxygen intake at ventilatory threshold in order to determine their aerobic fitness. During this time each man was given a series of mental tests such as being shown the word “red” in blue type and having to press keys matching the word rather than the color type.

 Men who were in the best aerobic fitness performed more like someone much younger would by being more accurate and having faster keystrokes.  Younger brains tend to perform such tests primarily in the left hemisphere.  The older men though needed their right brains to complete the tasks – except for the older men who were in the best physical shape.

 Even though the study was not designed to prove cause and effect, it does suggest that having better aerobic fitness is associated with improved cognitive functioning. 

 Before beginning a walking program or any type of physical activity, check with your physician to determine how to get started and what type of exercise to begin with.