Let’s Go for a Walk – The surprising health benefits of nature’s simplest exercise
By: GEORGE ABRAHAM, M.D.
The weather is beautiful. You really want to start exercising more, but you don’t want to spend hours cooped up at the gym, and you hate the idea of running.
Good news: Walking has many of the same health benefits as harder workouts. It is the simplest form of exercise, and anyone can do it. You can walk alone, with a friend or pet. And the only equipment you need is a sturdy pair of shoes.
Walking is the recommended workout for many people, especially those with knee, ankle, and back problems, and also for people who are overweight. Walking is a low-impact exercise, saving wear on your joints, and can be done for longer periods of time.
Researchers compared moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running, and found they produce similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. This means you can get the same benefits by walking as running, as long as you’re using the same amount of energy.
Walking is also a low-impact way to burn calories and lose weight. The key is to walk fast enough to raise your heart and breathing rates for an extended period. The longer you walk and the faster your pace, the more calories you’ll burn.
Walking is a proven mood booster. One study found that just 12 minutes of walking resulted in an increase in happiness, energy, concentration, and self-confidence. Walking in nature, especially, was found to reduce negative thinking, lowering the risk of depression.
To get the full health benefits of walking, work up to walking briskly for at least 30 minutes five days a week. “Brisk” means that you can still talk but you may be puffing slightly.
Start with shorter walks and build up your strength and endurance. Here’s a four-week plan to help you get the most out of walking.
Moderate activities such as walking pose little health risk, but if you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Dr. Abraham joined Maryland Primary Care Physicians in 2021 and sees patients in the Arundel Mills office. He earned his medical degree from St. George’s University, School of Medicine.