Walking: Optimal Exercise for Everyone

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Multiple studies have shown that the exercisers among us have better, longer lives than the sitters. While you can walk inside, getting out is far better for you as you can enjoy the joys of nature.

While you are making up your mind on which exercise gym to join, or which exercise programme to follow, get outside and take a walk. Get walking; any walking will gift you benefits, at any age!

Walking is one of the key attributes that mark us out as humans. Before primates evolved, animals flew, or swam, or slithered, or used four legs. Humans stood tall so they could see over obstacles. This gave them real advantages. They could climb and were able to travel long distances.

The benefits of walking are not just to your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Mentally you will be stimulated rapidly. Some creators find their best efforts occur immediately after a good exercise workout.

Shane O’Mara, a neuroscientist and professor of experimental brain research, recently released a book: In Praise of Walking. He describes the brain as a central target and beneficiary of walking. Walking is easy to do, needs nothing beyond footwear and stability to get moving, is safer than running, but is life changing overall.

Getting active, with walking as the exercise, delivers the following: improved mood, sleep, cognition, mobility, independence, longer healthy lives, reduced depression and anxiety, immobility, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, loss of cognition. Jury out on Alzheimer’s disease, but probably delayed. We were meant to move!

We have an internal and effective GPS system, where our senses of sight, sound, smell and the coordination of our muscles collectively guide us moving wherever we wish to go.

Recently a friend, a mature woman aged 70, went for walk. It was a sunny balmy day. Her first destination was a shop. She purchased her needs. Then she felt so good, a frisky 65, she walked on. By the end of this unplanned walk she suggested to herself that she no longer felt her 70 years but closer to 55. Body and brain gained. Walk on.

Studies have suggested mental performance gains measurably during walking, and significantly more so after a spell of walking: minds are cleared.

Dr O’Mara believes it is never too late to start walking, even long distances. Use these phrases as motivation: you don’t get old until you stop walking; you don’t stop walking because you’re old.

Many of the villages identified as Blue Zones (Okinawa, Sardinia, Loma Linda in California, Ikaria in Greece), because of the longevity of their residents, incorporate intensive walking, usually on hills to plant crops. Most residents follow a calorie-restricted diet, largely plant based or more exclusively vegetarian, and they have close personal relationships.

We live in enclosed internal environments and may spend time walking critically outside. A University of Ottawa study of its students taking 70 minutes to walk on the underground cloisters from one building to another were compared with their peers walking the same distance but outside in winter at minus 20°C. The mood of the outside walkers gained significantly more positivity than the inside walkers – another emphasis of the value of communing with the outside world.

United States 2018 Physical Activity guidelines set out the massive scientific support for getting moving and its broad range of benefits, while noting the sitting disease is as bad for you as smoking. Activity benefits the individual and family hugely, and the country gains from the relief of financial and societal burdens of the ageing crowds. Campaign. Get the country moving.

The American College of Cardiology in 2016 released an expert analysis called Living Longer through Physical Activity, by Catherine Wong and Mary Whooley, both practising cardiologists. Their opening sentence says it all: ‘There is no debate: physically active people live longer than their inactive counterparts.’ They assert that the magnitude of the benefit is enormous, with up to 40 per cent risk reduction in mortality and a three-year increase in longevity. Once again, they are following the traditional guidelines of up to 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. The review covers multiple studies, including confirming the benefits of reducing cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer.

How much walking should you do?

  • The internationally prescribed exercise hours for the best healthy outcome have been 150 minutes per week. That is just over 20 minutes per day. A speed of 5 km/hour is brisk and good.
  • Walking in a pleasant environment, such as in a park or on the beach, enhances the enjoyment, compared with the noise, fumes and hazards of busy streets.
  • Some people find their intellectual creativity is enhanced when walking alone. Others prefer walking in groups for conversation and exchange of tittle-tattle.

No matter if you have some disability, the experience of and habit of doing some exercise can only be beneficial. In any event it’s more interesting to see the world from standing up.

From Ageing Well: How to Navigate Life’s Journey in Your Later Years by Dr Doug Wilson, published with permission of Calico Publishing.

$39.95 calicopublishing.co.nz


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