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Simple act of walking can boost health

  • Published
  • By Al Bromley
  • 375th Aerospace Medical Squadron, Health Promotion Exercise Physiologist
Driving onto Scott Air Force Base early one morning this week I noticed people walking in the rain. My first thought: I am glad I am dry and comfortable, driving my car. Why would anyone walk in the rain? Then I noticed these folks were walking from the Metro Link station to their work site. They seemed pretty happy to be walking (in the rain). Dressed for the weather with rain jackets, hats and umbrellas, they came prepared.

Soon my smug attitude dissipated and I started to envy these individuals for their extra effort. Here I was sitting in my car, going to my sit-down job and feeling a bit soft. You know that softness that hits the mid-section and expands your buttocks? They looked fitter than I and definitely were following a more vigorous lifestyle.

I planned to exercise at the gym later that day, but there was no guarantee it would happen. These folks already had a built-in daily workout plan, walking to and from work. But was walking really that beneficial? It looks pretty easy-there's no intense sweating or heavy breathing.

I thought, "I need to study this a bit more."

It soon became obvious that walking may be the simplest, positive change a person can make to improve their health. Walking for at least 30 minutes each day:

Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke

Improves blood pressure, lowers blood sugar and reduces bad cholesterol

Helps to maintain a healthy body weight and reduces risks associated with obesity

Enhances mental well-being and reduces stress

Reduces the risk of osteoporosis and the risk of falling

Reduces the risk of breast and colon cancers

Reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes

Your physician does not have a medication that can replace all the health benefits that can be derived from the simple act of walking every day.

If you are not walking then you are most likely sitting. New research shows that even for those lean folks that exercise and eat healthy, too many hours spent sitting increases their mortality rate.

Walking reduces inflammation in your body (intense exercise does not) which reduces hardening of the arteries. Walking reduces hemostasis (sluggish blood flow). Sitting for long periods raises your blood sugar and puts increased pressure on the spinal disks. More research is needed, but chronic back pain in many cases is the result of too much sitting over a period of years.

So, it looks like everyone can benefit from walking more. The human body evolved to walk long distances and to run if desperate. Your metabolism, muscles and joints all need to be moving to stay healthy.

The next time you get stressed or feel your energy levels dropping, take a break and walk (preferably outdoors). Breathe, look at the scenery, and take someone with you. When you finish you will feel better (skip that energy drink) and your body will be healthier. You cannot afford to be sedentary. Walking is free.

Back to those motivated individuals using mass transit. Besides being healthier, thinner, smarter and less stressed, they help us all by not driving their cars every day. This translates to less traffic congestion, lower energy consumption, less pollution, and safer roads. We should all thank them and join them. What are you waiting for?

Ponder this quote from John Locke: "A sound mind in a sound body, is a short, but full description of a happy state: he that has these two, has little to wish for; and he that wants either of them, will be little the better for anything else."