The Benefits of Walking

Health, Home & Family
on September 2, 2007

Walking is easy exercise that packs powerful health benefits.

By helping to control blood pressure, walking can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Walking also boosts the “good cholesterol” and lowers the “bad cholesterol” in your blood, which helps to keep the heart healthy.

Regular walkers have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and some cancers, including breast cancer and colon cancer. Walking strengthens bones and muscles and helps maintain joint flexibility, which can relieve arthritis pain. A daily brisk walk also may improve sleep, lower stress levels and help prevent depression and anxiety. Another benefit: Combined with a healthy diet, walking can be a key to weight control.

Since walking is low-impact exercise, it’s safe for most people. If you are pregnant or unsure of your health status, check with your doctor before starting a walking program.

“Start a walking routine slowly, perhaps for 15 minutes, and work up to the recommended minimum of 30 minutes a day, five or more days a week,” says Dr. Jon Schriner, director of the Michigan Center for Athletic Medicine in Flushing, Mich. “Beginning at your own fitness ability, you can build a routine to enjoy for the rest of your life.”

Invest in a pair of well-cushioned, supportive shoes. Start outside your front door, walk a familiar route for 10 minutes or so, turn around and come home. As you become accustomed to walking, increase your speed until you reach a brisk pace, which means a faster gait that requires slightly more exertion than your normal walking pace. “Even at a brisk walking pace, you should be able to talk comfortably,” Dr. Schriner points out.

A warm-up and cooldown will improve your performance and help prevent muscle soreness or stiffness. To warm up, walk at your regular pace for five minutes before increasing to a brisk pace. During the last five minutes of your walk, cool down by slowing to your normal pace.

To stay motivated, walk with a friend or a walking group, vary your route and use a pedometer to keep track of how many steps you’ve taken. You could even chart a “virtual” walk across America by marking your daily mileage on a map.