Fancy gyms and workouts can be an attractive way to get and keep in shape, but sometimes simpler really is better. That’s what some residents of Dallas, Houston and Austin have discovered as the residents of Texas step up to good old-fashioned walking as their means of fitness.
Their commitment is sure to pay off, say experts, in better health and longer years of life — an average 1.3 more years. That’s the benefit of 30 minutes of walking a day, according to studies on the subject. In fact, that half hour of walking per day accounted for 1.1 more years without cardiovascular disease, compared with those that had low-activity levels.
No time? Think again. Thirty minutes a day equates to 49 days of the next 12 years of someone’s life to gain 1.3 healthy years. Add in the fact that walking will help keep off fat and improve one’s mood, and it’s a great payoff.
Those who put off the idea of spending 30 minutes in regular exercise like walking will likely end up spending more than that amount of time taking medications, undergoing surgery and recovery, or getting their medical bills paid.
If walking doesn’t work for you, there are alternatives many Texans are adopting, such as biking or swimming. The key point is: get active.
Researchers are discovering additional benefits of walking, including reductions in the rate of glaucoma, a disease of the eye. In a study done by Dr. Michael Passo of Oregon Health & Science University, patients who walked regularly lowered the pressure in the eye which, in turn, decreased their risk of glaucoma. The research also showed that walking lowers blood pressure for those patients with glaucoma.
Walking has also been shown to reduce the instances of breast cancer. A study of more than 26,000 women confirmed earlier studies on the benefits of moderate exercise in preventing the disease.
Those who do get cancer and undergo chemotherapy but also exercise have been shown to have reduced side effects from high-dose chemotherapy, according to another study, this one done at Freiburg University Medical Center in Freiburg, Germany.
Walking is also shown to help prevent colon cancer. A study of 80,000 men and women in Scandinavia during the 1970s showed that moderate recreational activity was enough to bring a 40% reduction in the risk of colon cancer among women. Only those men who were over 45 at the time of entry into the study clearly benefited from physical activity when it came to colorectal cancer. Researchers theorize that walking, by speeding up the passage of ingested foods through the colon, gives less time for carcinogens in the food to be in contact with the intestinal lining.
While walking can help prevent or reduce the instance of cancer, even something as simple as a cold can be nuisance enough to want to see some alleviation of symptoms. Walking, it seems, can help.
A study of 50 women divided into two groups: one whose members walked briskly for 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week, and a control group that did not exercise. The group of walkers experienced half as many colds as the control group and the walkers also showed an increase in natural killer cells, immune system cells that attack bacteria and viruses.
Another study of employee fitness programs showed that people who exercised as little as once a week averaged nearly five fewer sick days annually than those who did not participate in such programs.
Walking is also known to lower blood sugar levels, an important health benefit, especially since it can lead to reduce so-called bad cholesterol.
A great way to increase the benefits of walking as a health benefit is to add variety to the equation with a mix of up and downhill walking. Researchers have found that hills are good both ways, uphill giving walkers a cardiovascular workout and lowering triglycerides, downhill being best for lowering blood sugar levels.
Those who find walking uphill difficult can opt for downhill walking. A study of 45 healthy but sedentary people who hiked either up or down a steep mountain in the Austrian alps each day for two months, then switched for another two months, showed a lowering of blood sugar levels not seen in those hiking only uphill. Lower blood sugar may reduce the risk of Type II diabetes.
It’s never too young or too old to get in shape and walking can be a great way to do so. How you take care of yourself will certainly affect you as you age, and eventually your wallet, as well.