HCA Midwest Health - March 29, 2019

If you think a daily walk can’t do much for your health, step this way, please.

Walking offers a multitude of physical, emotional and mental benefits. It offers many of the same aerobic benefits as running and is a good choice for those with bone or joint issues that prevent them from running, says Daniel D. Schaper, MD, of Research Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. “Think about it,” he says. “Walking is easy to do, doesn’t cost anything and can be done every day. It’s an excellent way for people to begin an exercise program.”

Let’s look at five ways walking makes your life better, and how to get started.

Steps to a better mood

If you’ve noticed how much better you feel if you get away from the office and take even a short walk, it’s not just your imagination. Walking, like other aerobic activities stimulates endorphins, which in term improve your mood. Studies show walking, particularly in the outdoors, can be an inhibitor to depression.

Let’s walk it off

Walking can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your Body Mass Index (BMI) at an appropriate level. A brisk 30-minute walk can burn roughly 200 calories, so doing that every day, along with maintaining a good diet, can help you shed excess weight. A 2017 study showed that people who walk more and sit less have lower BMIs, an indicator of obesity.

The heart (and lungs) of the matter

Both the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control advocate moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise to help ward off heart disease. Did you also know that walking can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol? And reduce your risk of diabetes? The National Walkers’ Health Study cited that regular walking was linked to a seven percent reduced risk of both elevated blood pressure and cholesterol and found that walkers had a 12 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Plus, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, regular, brisk 30-minute walks can increase lung capacity and strengthen the lungs.

Walking Tall

Walking can actually help improve your balance and is relatively risk free. In fact, according to The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee’s scientific report, walking is the most popular aerobic activity and has one of the lowest injury rates of any form of exercise.

“Walking is excellent for building up your stamina and endurance,” says Dr. Schaper. “That goes for those beginning an exercise program, or even athletes who may run. In fact, walking is a good cross-training exercise which gives your joints and muscles a little rest.”

And for those suffering from osteoporosis, walking is a safe, aerobic exercise that can help bolster the bones.

Take a stroll down memory lane

Multiple studies show that a regular routine of walking – 30 minutes several times a week – can actually slow down mental decline and fading memory, and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. Some studies even show a link between walking and better cognitive function in older adults.

Ready to walk a mile in those shoes?

Finding the right walking shoes is key. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The toe should be wide enough that toes aren't pinched. This is extra important if you have any foot issues like bunions or pinched nerves.
  • The shoe should be long enough that your big toe doesn't touch the end.
  • The heel should be flat and relatively straight. You don't need that big, wide, flared heel that some running shoes have for stability, since walkers land with less force.
  • Flexibility is key because walking is a rolling motion, and your shoes need to work with you. Bend the shoe in half and twist it a bit to test its flex. It should give easily.
  • The shape should be a natural curve to facilitate walking's heel-to-toe motion.
  • The cushioning depends on your foot type. More cushioning increases comfort for someone with a high arch, for instance. If you have any issues with your feet, go to a store that specializes in walking or athletic shoes, and have a fitting expert help you.

Taking that first step

If you are an exercise beginner, don’t be intimidated! Even just 15 minutes a day of walking can do your body a world of good. Everyone has to start somewhere. A few tips for walking success:

  • Add steps into your day by doing simple things like parking in the furthest spot at the store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Keep track of your progress – watching the miles add up will inspire you to stick with it.
  • Start with simple goals, such as a 10-minute early morning walk, or a 5-minute, lunchtime stroll.
  • Change up your routine –try mall walking if the weather is bad, but get outside when you can.
  • Don’t like to walk alone? Ask a friend to join, or look for a local health or walking group.

Walking by your side

HCA Midwest Health offers a team of board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine specialists with experience in bone and joint issues of all types as well as sports-related health. We have more than 25 orthopedic specialists and 10 clinic locations throughout metropolitan Kansas City. You won’t have to walk far to find the expertise you need. Learn more about our bone and joint health services.