May is National Walking Month. What better time of the year to get out into the sunshine, admire the trees and wild flowers in bloom and get the blood flowing?
Walking is one of the most popular forms of exercise. Most of us do it, even if we’re only walking to the shops. Yet it is more than a means to an end. Walking groups all over the country allow people to experience the landscape around them, benefitting from the exercise and making new friends. So, what are the health benefits of walking?
The most obvious benefit of walking is that it is good for controlling your weight. It’s one of the most popular forms of weight loss, and one of the best for maintaining weight.
You don’t need any special equipment or clothing as you would for swimming, running, cycling or going to the gym. Walking to the supermarket and carrying a couple of heavy (but manageable) bags back does not cost a membership fee.
Good for Circulation
As we get older, our circulation slows a little as we become less active. That’s why older people tend to feel the cold a lot more than younger people. Walking is a form of aerobic exercise and brisk walking is a form of cardio exercise. Cardio increases the heart rate and gets blood moving faster.
Becoming more sedate leads to slower circulation and the risk of deep vein thrombosis and blood clots. Walking also reduces your chances of heart disease. Heart disease, in all its forms, is the biggest killer of adults of all ages.
Strengthens Muscles and Bones
Any form of exercise will strengthen muscles regardless of the person’s age. It’s how the body copes with the stresses placed upon it – it makes itself stronger and able to cope for next time. As for strengthening bones, studies of osteoporosis patients showed that it stopped the loss of bone density. Hip fractures in post-menopausal women were also reduced according to a separate study at a private women’s hospital in the USA.
Good for Co-ordination and Balance
Having good balance is important to a healthy lifestyle and one that is underrated. Fortunately, by improving muscle tone and strength, a consequence is that your co-ordination and balance improves.
This is especially important for our older readers. The NHS reports that every year, around 1 in 3 older people receive medical treatment after having a fall. Studies have shown that these rates are much lower among those older people who are more active than normal.
A consequence of stronger bones and muscles is that arthritis, particularly in the legs and hips, can be relieved with a fitter lower body. However, it can be concerning for those who suffer from the condition – they don’t want to exercise in case the arthritis flairs up.
Some improvements mentioned above are linked to arthritis relief, but there is more to it than fitness. Walking reduces fatigue and relieves pressure on aching joints simply because you have stronger leg and hip muscles and bones.
Keeps You Mentally Healthy
The benefits of exercise to stress, anxiety and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) are well documented. Exercise releases a chemical called ‘endorphins’ which makes us feel good. We get a similar effect from sitting in the sun on a warm day. These endorphins help combat low-level stresses and mild cases of ‘the blues’ but it is not a cure for clinical depression or anything that might require therapy or medication.
The other side is that it keeps the brain sharp. Studies of groups of women over the age of 65 have persistently shown that memory, processing, logic and reasoning were better for those who are more physically active.