Sometimes the best solutions are the most simple. This appears to be the case with walking, arguably the simplest form of exercise. Walking is gentle on the body and takes no special equipment to perform, making it also a very accessible way to exercise. There has been quite a bit of research done on the effectiveness of walking, and the results are staggering.
Decreased pain and disability
Walking appears to make the body stronger and more resilient in addition to being therapeutic. When people suffering from knee arthritis walked for only three hours a week, their pain and disability went down by nearly half. Walking for only four hours per week decreased the risk of hip fracture in post-menopausal women by over 40 percent.
Walking and mental health
Though physical activity and mental health are not always put in the same breath, walking also appears to have a significant impact on our happiness levels. In one study, nearly a third of the depressed patients reported feeling better after only a small dose of walking. When that small dose was increased, the number of depressed patients who were feeling better jumped to about half. Similarly, walking has been shown to reduce anxiety in about half of all patients who implement it into their routine.
Decreased illness and disease
The risk of disease and illness also seems to be significantly cut down when walking is added to the picture. Some research has found that walking can decrease the risk of heart disease by as much as 50 percent. Older patients who started a walking routine were able to reduce their progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s by about half as well. In one study of patients at a high risk for diabetes, walking was combined with other lifestyle interventions and almost 60 percent of patients reduced the progression to frank diabetes.
Walking and lower mortality
All of these benefits point to a lower mortality rate as well. A Harvard alumni study followed graduates for a dozen years and found that people who walked had a 23 percent lower rate of death than those who did not walk. Cardiorespiratory fitness, something walking can influence, has also been pointed to as the best mortality predictor.
Though walking may never become a fitness fad, its benefits are undeniable. In fact, if a pill could produce effects similar to the statistics cited above, it would be the bestselling drug in the world. Until then the rest of us will be making strides naturally, one step at a time.
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