Thursday, April 2, 2009

Some Benefits of Walking

After writing about weight loss, I began to consider, what were the benefits of walking? Are there benefits from walking other than losing weight? I found quite a few that make walking sound like a not to be missed activity.

A few benefits of walking
  • Protects the heart and circulatory system by raising HDL, the good cholesterol, and keeping weight down.
  • May help prevent cancer by, among other things, beneficial effects on the immune system and hormone levels.
  • Decrease the risk of glaucoma. Exercise also lowers the pressure for those with glaucoma.
  • Decreases risk of diabetes
  • Helps with efficient metabolism

Steps per day

When healthy young men dropped their daily steps from 6,000 or 10,000 steps down to 2,000 steps it took only two weeks for their metabolism to show problems. Their body was no longer processing energy from food efficiently. This caused a large increase in insulin circulating in their blood. It also caused a 7% increase in abdominal fat even though there was no weight gain. An increase in heart disease risk factors was also noted.

2000 steps is equivalent to about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers). It is surprising how many steps per day we can add just by parking the car a bit further away or taking the steps instead of the elevator. I am sure that most of us can think of ways to add extra steps in our day. Most of us would need to add a 30 - 60 minute walk to achieve a goal of 6,000 to 10,000 steps per day.

Just 30 minutes of walking a day gives as much risk reduction for heart attack as higher intensity exercise.

What is the best speed to walk? That depends on why you are walking and what you are able to do. If you are primarily walking to lose weight, walking at an easy pace, where it is easy to carry on a conversation, is best. This gives the body time to release and burn stored sugar and fat, rather than burning only available sugars and muscle.

There is very little difference in calories burned per mile walking at speeds between 2.5 (4 km) and 4 miles per hour
(6.4 kmph). The more you weigh, the more calories you burn at any speed. However it is not worth the injury risk to carry extra weight. It is easier to walk an extra 5 minutes. A walking speed of 5 mph (8 kmph) or 12 minutes per mile brings you to the top calorie burn per mile and is the same as that achieved by jogging. Runners don't get any calorie burning benefit by going faster than 10 minutes per mile or 6 mph (9.6 kmph).

Increase your distance slowly

The greater the distance you walk the more calories you burn. The only benefit in walking faster is that you can go further in the same time. Only do what you are able to do and build up. If you are only able to walk 100 meters at first, do that for two days and then increase the distance by half. Do that for two or three days and increase by half again. Continue increasing like this until you can walk the desired distance. It is not necessary to run unless you enjoy it.

Another point about speed is that slower strolling reduces the loads on the knee joints by 25%. This is important to consider if you have quite a lot of weight to lose. Also walking with fitness poles has the effect of burning more calories per mile while taking pressure off the knees and joints.

Make sure you have shoes that fit you well. If your climate doesn't lend itself well to walking outdoors, try walking in a large enclosed shopping mall.

So for both preventing ill health and improving your health status, start walking.

Be in good health


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