Walking helps prevent chronic disease

Walking can help address many health issues. Walking is a healthy way to promote disease prevention and management.

A girl walking in the forest.
Photo: Pexels/Pixabay.

Increasing your physical activity by walking is an important step towards a healthier life. People who are physically active can live longer and have a lower risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, depression, dementia and some cancers.

Walking is a low-impact exercise that requires no equipment except a good pair of walking shoes. Doing any physical activity is better than doing none.

The benefits of walking as related to preventing chronic disease include:

  • Type 2 diabetes and obesity: Walking lowers both blood glucose and insulin resistance. While sitting all day, driving or watching TV for long periods of time raises the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Walking helps with weight loss and weight management. Maintaining a healthy weight is one way to prevent against chronic disease.
  • Heart disease: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most races and ethnicities in the United States, including African Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians. Heart disease is also the leading cause of death among people with diabetes. Walking is promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends 30 minutes of physical activity per day and at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week to derive benefits.
  • Cancer: After heart disease, cancer is the second leading cause of death. Like the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intense or 75 minutes of vigorous-intense activity each week (preferably spread throughout the week). Moderate-intense activities are those at the level of a brisk walk.
  • Joint pain and depression: Walking is low impact on your joints, can be done almost anywhere and does not require special equipment or a gym membership. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends walking to improve arthritis pain, fatigue, function, and quality of life. Research at the Mayo Clinic also reveals regular exercise such as walking may release feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids) that may ease depressive symptoms.
  • Dementia: According to researchers, walking regularly lowers your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Other cognitive benefits of walking as related to brain health include improved memory, focus, and problem-solving because exercise strengthens the connection between brain circuits.

Not sure where to begin with implementing a walking routine? Here are some tips for getting started on the right foot. Keep in mind that you do not have to fit the recommended 30 minutes of walking in all at once. Instead, break your walking up into smaller intervals throughout the day. For example, you can do 10 minutes of brisk walking 3 times a day or 15 minutes twice a day. Start at a slow pace then gradually increase the duration and speed of your walks as you build stamina. When convenient, walk instead of driving or taking public transportation. If you are not able to walk outside, consider walking laps indoors. Ideal inside walking locations might be a mall, school gym, or indoor track.

Starting a walking program can be a good way to increase physical activity. Michigan State University Extension offers Walk with Ease, a six-week self-directed workshop that consists of creating your own walking plan along with warm-up and cool-down exercises and a booklet on health-related topics.

Another great way to motivate yourself might be to join a walking group at your local community center or senior center. Finding a walking buddy for support might also be encouraging. A fun way to stay on track and keep moving throughout your day is to count your daily steps through a phone app or a pedometer.

Walking has so many benefits! By following these tips you will soon be on the path to better health.

For more helpful information on chronic disease prevention and management, visit Michigan State University Extension at canr.msu.edu/chronic_disease.

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