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Walking for the health of it

By on May 25, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

For a decade of my writing articles in The Good Life, I have been extolling the virtues of regular exercise and walking, especially as we age. 

This is not just my personal opinion, but it is also backed up by science and research. 

After I finished writing this article, I received an email from Harvard Health that says: “Walk your way to health. In less than 30 minutes a day, walking may be one of the most powerful ‘medicines’ available. It can lower your risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep your memory sharp.”

The American Heart Association recommends brisk walking for at least 30 minutes, five days a week or intense aerobic exercise (such as running) for 20 minutes, three times a week. 

No matter whether it is walking, jogging, biking or dancing, we need to keep moving. Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Hundreds of medical studies support our need for regular exercise. Multiple medical studies and researchers have confirmed that regular walking reduces the risk of cardiac events by 31 percent and significantly prolongs the lives of both men and women. 

Even walking a minimum of five to six miles a week at a pace of two miles an hour was protective. Weekly walking longer and farther every week gave even more cardiovascular protection.

I have discovered personally that walking as a part of my daily life pays many benefits including my health, my mood and overall happiness. Regular moderate exercise helps protect against dementia, artery disease, obesity, diabetes and depression as well as some forms of cancer.

Since I have become an older adult, I have been walking more than running (which I never really enjoyed). Running causes us to absorb a lot of impact on our bodies as we age. 

Walkers have a reduced risk of exercise-related injuries compared to runners. 

My wife and I have Apple watches that record the number of steps we take and the distance we have walked on our daily walks. Lynn often walks with two or three other women while I walk our dog Jackson every day. We both average about 2.5 miles a day.

Walking is such an easy exercise. You don’t need any special equipment other than good shoes. No fees need to be paid while walking on sidewalks or trails. No special clothes are needed except to dress appropriately for the climate.

Walking up and down stairs is also very good for you. Canadian researchers studied 64-year-old males, comparing them lifting weights, walking and going up and down stairs. As you would expect, stair climbing was more taxing than brisk walking, but even more so than walking up a steep incline.

An interesting study of 12,000 adults living in inner cities showed less likelihood of being overweight than those living in the suburbs. Suburbanites were more likely to be overweight by 45 percent and obese by 15 percent. The researchers felt it was driving cars vs. walking that played a role. 

I suspect it also might relate to affluence that affected the eating habits in suburbia.

If you are goal driven, I would suggest walking two to four miles a day, at least five days a week. Research suggests that 2,000 steps is about one mile of walking. 

This morning I walked 5,479 steps that covered 2.33 miles, according to my Apple watch. You don’t need this watch to tell you this, but it is a motivator for me. The important thing is to try to walk briskly at about 100 steps per minute.

Some exercise researchers wondered if the benefits of walking were related to genetics over brisk movement. 

In Finland, doctors studied 16,000 same-sex twins. (Who would have guessed there were that many Finnish same-sex twins!) 

After 20 years of follow-up (again amazing), 1,252 had died. During the study period, the sedentary sibling’s death rate was significantly higher than their actively exercising twin sibling’s death rate.

So stay motivated, walking regularly with a friend or friends if possible. Swing your arms with each step and walk at a steady pace. 

Exercise burns calories. It is estimated that we will burn 100 calories per mile. That might not seem like much, but a study of 5,000 men and women showed that the average American gains 2.2 pounds a year during their middle age. This 15 year study showed that walking just 35 minutes a day saved a 160 pound person 15 pounds of flab over 15 years. 

For those of us who qualify as seniors, walking can be our best medicine, readily available to improve or maintain our health. 

My Rx is “keep moving, keep walking for the health of it.”

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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