Walk Your Way to Health
I walk because it’s good for me. Every morning, year round, rain or shine, my wife and I walk. Up the drive, along the gravel road, detour in the long field above the creek, out on the road again, down the steep hill to the creek and up the other side, then back. Our morning walk is the most precious 45 minutes of the day, and I’ll tell you why.
I love the simplicity of walking. Just get dressed, and step out the door. No driving to the gym. No special equipment or expensive machines. No need to concentrate on any particular method or technique. Just start walking, and relax. We are bipedal beings – that is we have two legs and we are well designed to walk.
Health Benefits of Walking
The health benefits of walking are staggering. Mind, body and spirit all benefit from exercise. Walkers think better, feel better, and live longer.
Walking is cheap mental therapy. Studies repeatedly show that regular walking is equal to or better than medication for treating stress and depression. Regular walkers have about half the rate of dementia and better thinking ability as they age. Patients with early dementia improve cognitive skills with exercise.
Regular exercise is shown to be the best predictor of heart health and markedly lower your risk of heart disease. Even modest amounts of exercise reduce blood pressure and help prevent weight gain, especially around the mid-section which is the most dangerous area for weight to accumulate. Walking leads to improvements in heart health and cardiac risk markers. Regular exercise is just as good for preventing strokes as well.
Walk to prevent cancer. Research shows huge reductions in the rate of cancer due to simply walking regularly. Some studies show a 50% reduction in breast cancer. Others show walking leads to less colon cancer. The 1998 Honolulu Heart Study of 8000 men, followed over a 12-year period, found that walking just two miles a day cut the risk of death almost in half. The walkers’ risk of death was especially lower from cancer.
And similar to heart disease, even if you already have cancer, walking can help. It leads to a better quality of life and reduced risk of cancer returning. One study found breast cancer patients who walk regularly have as much as a 40% improved survival rate.
Diabetes is another disease that regular exercise can prevent. Daily walking is shown to reduce the risk of getting diabetes, as well as improve the markers of existing diabetes control. This is true no matter what your weight and the benefits are independent of weight loss. Diabetes is a miserable disease with many unpleasant complications – yet it is treatable and largely preventable so get out and walk.
Walk for Weight Loss
Walking helps keep the belly trim and muscles toned. A slow walk, about 2 mph, will burn roughly as many calories as you weigh in pounds, in an hour. Working up to a brisk walk of 3-4 mph, or one with lots of hills, can get that number 2-3 times higher.
So for me, at 180 pounds, walking briskly with a few hills en route, I’ll burn about 250 calories with my 45 minute morning walk. I walk about 5 days per week which is 260 days per year. That totals about 65,000 calories burned each year. A rough estimate is to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat. My daily walk should keep about 18 pounds of fat from building up each year!
So how do you get a good walking program going and how do you keep it going? Attitude! You have to have the right mindset to make great health a habit. You have a choice.
“I just don’t have time to exercise” says my patient… I’ve heard it a thousand times and I think to myself “then you’d better make time to be sick”, because exercise is the best medicine I have to offer you – or more correctly, you have to offer yourself.
I used that lame excuse many years ago, while in residency training, and my father wisely suggested that “you’d better make time, because no one else will”. Working in several clinics, teaching students, training staff, doing seminars, writing articles, researching, reading, raising a family – when do I have time to exercise? When I make time! It means going to bed a little earlier and getting up a little sooner.
Once you’ve made up your mind to commit to regular exercise, should it be walking, then all you really need is a great pair of shoes. Walking barefoot, on the earth, is probably what we were designed for. Asphalt and concrete don’t do our feet, or our joints, any favors. So get a great pair of walking shoes.
Take your footwear one step further and consider getting a custom insole that is designed exactly for your footbed. I frequently refer patients to my friend and colleague Dr. Rill at “Foot Support Group” for custom orthotics. They are relatively inexpensive, super comfortable, and mine have lasted 25 years!
Just Do It
Whatever motivates you to walk, just do it. In the morning, on a lunch break, or after work. Several times per day instead of all at once. Back and forth along Main street, to the post office and back, or around the block. At the park, the school track, or indoors at the Mall. It doesn’t really matter, just walk.
Walk with a buddy or walk alone. I love to walk with music tapping out a steady rhythm. Other times I enjoy the sounds of nature during my walk. Our daily walk is one of the more sacred times to share with my wife and many life issues are mulled over during our walks. It is a special time we can share together, while getting some exercise.
Last winter, it was dark and cold, really cold, 12 degrees below zero kind of cold, on our coldest morning walk of the year. I was happy to sit by the fire and enjoy another cup of coffee, but my wife insisted we “cowboy up” and go for our walk, so we did. For most of us, it helps our motivation to have someone to walk with. But nobody is perfect, or needs to be, so just get started and do your best. By the way, next morning it was 15 degrees below zero, and I convinced her to stay in by the fire.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.