Walking for Health, Fitness, and Anti-Aging Benefits
Benefits of Walking
Walking is an enjoyable activity with great health and anti-aging benefits. It helps us to stay fit and strong, reduces the risk of disease, and can improve our mental outlook on life. Walking is a versatile exercise that can be a gentle, moderate, or intense activity. It's also a very convenient form of exercise for many people.
Regular walking helps us to stay lean, improves the health of our immune system, and decreases the risk of several diseases that are more common in older people than in younger people. Examples of these diseases include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Walking can also help us build and maintain bone strength as we grow older, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. It improves stamina and mobility and decreases the risk of falling. In addition, it has been shown to improve cognition in older people and reduce stress. All of these factors are important for an anti-aging program.
I took the photos in this article during my walks. Walking is my favourite form of exercise. People who are very out of shape or very overweight or who have a health problem must check with a doctor before they begin a fitness program, including one involving walking.
Components of an Anti-Aging Program
The goals of an anti-aging program are to enable us to stay healthy and fit as well as physically and mentally active as the years pass. By reducing disease we can also give ourselves a better chance of living longer. We can't stop chronological aging. We can control our body's reaction to the passage of time, to a greater or lesser extent, based on our specific situation.
Exercising regularly is an excellent strategy to slow aging. It's helpful to include strength training and stretching in a fitness program as well as aerobic exercise. It's also helpful to follow the additional anti-aging strategies listed below.
- Follow a healthy and nutritious diet
- Deal with stress effectively
- Get enough sleep
- Perform stimulating mental activities to maintain memory and learning ability
- Avoid unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Monitor and treat pre-existing health conditions as necessary
Even without performing these extra steps, simply going for a regular, moderately brisk walk can be very worthwhile for health.
Exercise Recommendations from WHO
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults should meet the following exercise requirements in order to be healthy and fit.
- Complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) per week OR complete at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week OR complete an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous exercise.
- Exercise for at least ten minutes in each session.
- Perform muscle-strengthening exercises for the major muscle groups on at least two days in a week. Some styles of walking can accomplish this task. Alternatively, supplementary exercises can be performed during walks or at home.
People with mobility problems or health disorders that prevent them from reaching the above goals should adjust their exercise type, intensity, and amount as appropriate. This precaution also applies to people who haven't exercised for a long time. Any walking (or other type of exercise) has benefits for health and anti-aging compared to being sedentary.
Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.— Steven Wright
An Ideal Anti-Aging and Fitness Activity
For many people, walking is a very accessible and convenient exercise. All that's needed are some comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing for the weather, which are things that people normally own even if they don't walk for exercise. Walking workouts can be done during other necessary activities, such as getting to work, going to an appointment, shopping, or walking a dog.
Walking around the block or in a shopping mall is a good way to begin exercising for someone who hasn't done so for a long time. For someone with mobility or health problems, even a slow walk may offer some benefits. Brisk walking is generally more beneficial, however. It's important to increase the speed and intensity of a walking workout gradually. Walking is less likely to cause injuries than many other forms of exercise, but as the workout intensity increases the chance of injuries increases as well.
A walking walkout can be even more intense than a brisk walk. Walking up a steep hill, stair climbing, hiking, power walking with bent arms, race walking, and Nordic walking with poles all have the potential to turn walking into a vigorous workout. Race walkers often move faster than moderately-paced joggers. Walking in deep water can be a good aerobic workout, too. It's also easy on the joints and builds leg muscles.
Potential Health Benefits of Walking
Walking and Mental Health
Walking is valuable for stress reduction and mental health. Travelling through a pleasant or interesting environment can be relaxing and can improve mood. Some people find that a brisk walk makes them feel happier. Others use slow, mindful walking as a type of meditation. Walking can also boost creativity, as I've discovered for myself.
Walking adds interest to life because it enables a person to explore new areas. (Safety should always be considered when choosing a location for a walk.) It can also enable a person to socialize with friends or meet new people. In some areas it's possible to join a walking group, which helps to build friendships.
Travelling a specific distance or moving at a certain speed can provide a goal to strive for, especially if a person registers for a community walking event or competition. Working towards a challenging but realistic goal can boost confidence.
All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.— Friedrich Nietzsche
Decreasing the Risk of Disease
A lot of evidence suggests that walking reduces the risk of various diseases, enabling us to live longer. Here are some discoveries made by researchers.
- Regular brisk walking helps to lower the blood cholesterol level and decrease high blood pressure. It also reduces the risk of heart disease. In addition, it decreases the risk of an ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot) and of a hemorrhagic stroke (caused by a ruptured blood vessel).
- One research project published by the American Heart Association and referenced below made an interesting discovery. The researchers found that the amount of time spent walking correlated with a lower incidence of strokes in men. (Women weren't tested in this particular experiment.) The longer the walks, the lower the stroke risk. Walking pace had a very low correlation with reduced stroke risk.
- Being overweight or inactive increases the risk of some types of cancer. Walking regularly decreases this risk.
- Walking decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes by regulating weight. It also reduces insulin resistance in obese people. Insulin is a hormone that binds to the surface of cells, enabling glucose to leave the blood and enter the cells. In insulin resistance, the cells no longer respond to the presence of insulin.
- Walking enhances the activity of the immune system and can boost energy and stamina.
- Walking can also reduce the risk of falls in older people. It may help them to live independently for a longer period of time or perhaps for the rest of their lives.
Walking is man's best exercise.— Hippocrates
Reducing the Risk of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a condition in which bone loses mass and becomes more fragile. We have an increased chance of developing osteoporosis as we get older.
Weight and load bearing exercise build bone strength. Walking briskly on a flat surface has lots of health benefits, but it isn't a great way to strengthen the bones in the lower body. However, walking against gravity is.
Hiking and stair climbing are much better at building bone than walking on a flat surface. If you decide to climb stairs, get used to the exercise gradually and don't do it excessively, since it can be hard on the knees. Adding jogging, skipping, or jumping intervals to a walk will improve lower body bone strength too. These higher impact forms of exercise need to be done with suitable shoes and on a suitable surface, since they are more likely to cause injuries.
Step aerobics and dancing are other good ways to build bone, providing the dancing includes steps that involve lifting the feet off the ground, such as hopping, jumping, and stamping movements. If you don't want to dance in public, dancing at home to music can be very enjoyable. Don't dance on a very hard surface like concrete, though.
If you already have osteoporosis, make sure that you discuss your exercise program with your doctor before you start walking.
Useful Additions to a Walking Workout
Any type of walking has anti-aging benefits. For maximum health benefits, though, there is one area that might need to be supplemented to improve the anti-aging ability of walking. Most styles of walking don't do much to develop upper body strength.
Certain types of walking—such as Nordic or pole walking—do help to build upper body strength. Taking a stretchy exercise or resistance band on a walk to do a few upper body exercises is also a good way to improve strength. Doing push-up type exercises in the middle of a walk will help as well.
Resistance bands or weights can also be used to develop strength at home. If you don't like the idea of doing separate strength-building exercise sessions, try fitting the exercises into other activities, such as during television advertisements, while watching a television show, or during breaks when you're working. Just be sure that you use good form during strength exercises and don't rush through them.
Muscle loss does tend to occur as we grow older. Resistance or strength training can not only halt this loss but also build new muscle. This enables our bodies to function well in our daily lives. In addition, building stronger muscles can stimulate more bone to form when the muscles act on the bones.
Walk for Health and Fitness
We can't stop the passage of time, but we can certainly help ourselves to remain fit, energetic, and mentally active as time passes. As long as you don't have a health problem that makes it dangerous to exercise without a doctor's advice and as long as you have supportive shoes, you could head out of the door right now to take a walk. Choosing a safe route or safe time of day is important, though. Extra factors like increasing walking speed, doing different types of walking, and doing resistance training can be added later. If you are a beginner or haven't exercised for a while, the most important thing for health and anti-aging is to begin the walking habit as soon as possible.
Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.— Thomas Jefferson
- Exercise recommendations from the World Health Organization
- Fitting walking into your life from the American Heart Association (AHA)
- Time spent walking linked to stroke reduction in older men from Stroke, an AHA Journal
- Walking reduces risk of type 2 diabetes from Harvard School of Public Health
- Effect of walking on insulin resistance from the National Institutes of Health
- Walking boosts creativity from Stanford University
- Walking benefits for older adults from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Linda Crampton