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The many benefits of walking

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Hippocrates claimed that “Walking is man’s best medicine.” And if one looks at the research conducted in recent years, it certainly seems he was on to something. Here’s why it’s well worth putting on your walking shoes (make sure you have a decent pair) and stretching your legs for the recommended 30 minutes five times a week.

Reduces your risk of heart disease
It’s been proven time and again that walking has a positive impact on several of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, including cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, obesity and stress. As Harvard Health Publishing outlines, “In a report that included findings from multiple well done studies, researchers found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% cut the risk of dying by 32%.” Interestingly, these findings were based on a limited amount of walking – just 8,8 km a week – at a fairly relaxed pace – roughly 3,2 km per hour.

Eases joint pain
Studies have shown that walking can make a significant difference to easing arthritis-related joint pain by lubricating the joints and strengthening the muscles that surround them. There’s also evidence to suggest that walking 8–10 km a week goes a long way towards preventing arthritis. If you already suffer from osteoarthritis, you may want to think about adding water aerobics to your exercise routine alongside regular walks.

Improves cognitive function
While regular exercise of any kind has been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia or suffering cognitive decline, one small study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicinehas suggested that walking may help to improve reaction times among those suffering from vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), which is the second most common cause of dementia. 

And if you need even more reasons to walk, consider that this simple form of exercise can also help you to:

  • Reduce your risk for chronic diseases like high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Improve your balance – this is especially important as you grow older and become more prone to falls.
  • Maintain your weight.
  • Boost your mood.

Walk well
Walking can be as moderate or as vigorous as you like, but as with any form of exercise, the more intense the workout, the greater the benefits. If you’re thinking about ramping up your morning or afternoon walk from a gentle stroll to a purposeful stride, here are a few pointers from Mayo Clinic to ensure that you avoid doing any damage. 

  • Keep your head up and make sure you’re looking ahead, not down at the ground. 
  • Relax your neck, shoulders and back.
  • Swing your arms freely, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles slightly and keep your back straight – make sure it isn’t arched.
  • Walk smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.

Remember: If you’re thinking of starting a new form of exercise (yes, even walking), it’s important to get the all-clear from your GP – especially if you have an existing health condition.