"People who walk regularly have been shown to experience less incidence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other diseases," explained Family Practice physician Timothy Wagner, D.O. "Walking is a gentle, low-impact exercise that almost everyone can do, and it can result in a higher level of overall fitness and health."
Benefits of Walking
A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health shows that walking at a moderate pace (3 m.p.h.) for up to 3 hours a week-or 30 minutes a day-can cut the risk of heart disease in women by as much as 40%, and the benefits to men are comparable. This is the same benefit a person would get from aerobics, jogging, or other vigorous exercise.
Along with its benefits to the heart, walking:
-improves circulation and breathing
Walking Speed and Health
Less than 3 m.p.h. is considered to be slow walking.
More than 3 m.p.h. is considered brisk walking.
More than 4 m.p.h. is considered very brisk walking.
-bolsters the immune system
-helps prevent osteoporosis
-helps prevent and control diabetes
-helps control weight
Before starting a walking or exercise program, check with your doctor first. "Walking isn't as likely to lead to injuries as other types of exercise," Dr. Wagner added. "However, people should still take steps to prevent injuries like blisters or muscle pain, in order to receive the maximum benefits."
-Wear comfortable shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick flexible soles to cushion feet and absorb shock. Dress in comfortable clothing and layers for changing temperatures. Choose bright colors or reflective tape after dark so motorists can see you.
-Warm up for about five minutes first by walking slowly and then stretch muscles, such as in the calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
-Start slow and easy: "If you've been inactive and tire easily, walk only as far or as fast as you find comfortable," Dr. Wagner suggested. "If you can only walk for a few minutes, let that be your starting point. For example, try short daily sessions of 5 to 10 minutes and slowly build up to 15 minutes twice a day. Over several weeks' time, try to gradually work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of walking on most days of the week."
-Measure Intensity: "As you walk, you can measure the intensity of your workout by checking your heart rate," he said. "This allows you to increase the intensity or your workout or to slow down to avoid overdoing it."
To find out if you're exercising within the range of your target heart rate, stop walking to check your pulse manually at your wrist (radial artery) or neck (carotid artery). Another option is to wear an electronic device that displays your heart rate.
"A person should be able to carry on a conversation while they walk, but be a little breathless when talking," Dr. Wagner stated. "For those just starting out with a walking program, they should try to work up to a pace of at least three miles per hour."
-Cool down after each walking session to reduce stress on your heart and muscles by walking slowly for about five minutes and repeating stretches.
How Much is Enough?
A recent study published in USA Today showed that Americans only take an average of about 5,000 steps a day, but experts recommend taking at least 10,000 steps a day, which is equivalent to walking about 5 miles. (A mile is roughly 2,000-2,500 steps, depending on a person's stride length.)
"If your goal is to lose weight, you probably need to work up to 12,000 or more steps a day," Dr. Wagner said.
Health Risks from Sitting Still
"Sitting time and non-exercise activities have been linked in studies to rates of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease," Dr. Wagner cautioned.
For example, the American Cancer Society's Cancer II study of over 100,000 healthy people tracked since 1992 found that women who sit for more than six hours during their leisure time each day had a 37 percent greater chance of death than women who sat for three hours or less, while men had an 18 percent greater chance of death. This finding was independent of whether the people got in a good dose of exercise each day.
In addition, screen time of two hours a day or more of sitting in front of the TV or computer may double a person's risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event.
"Even a little physical activity is usually better than none at all," Dr. Wagner concluded. "Walking is one of your body's most natural forms of exercise. It's safe, simple, doesn't require practice, and has many health benefits."
Timothy Wagner, D.O., is a board certified Family Practice physician affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's active medical staff and Firestone Health Care. Firestone Health Care offices are located at 28885 state Route 62 in Damascus, 330-537-4661; 132 North Market Street in East Palestine, 330-426-9484; and 2364 Southeast Boulevard in Salem, 330-332-9961.