TEN COMPELLING REASONS TO WALK!
Way to Well-being
By Alexandra Cann
Here are 10 compelling reasons why walking is a great way to keep yourself healthy, happy, and looking great, both today and in the long run.
Keeps Your Heart Strong.
Some heart-felt statistics: Each year, 1.5 million Americans suffer heart
attacks, 45% before age 65. Luckily, there are steps you can take to keep
your heart strong: Regular, moderate exercise like walking, along with
eating a healthy diet.
Walking raises your heart rate and strengthens your heart muscle, making it easier for the heart to pump blood through the body, which is good for your entire cardiovascular system. It raises the level of HDL ("good") cholesterol, which works to free surplus fat from blood cells, and greatly decreases the death rate from heart disease. This latter benefit is the result of the toning of your involuntary neurological centers. This leads to more control over the functions that these centers control, like blood pressure, and a reduction in the possibility of developing irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias.
2. Walking Reduces Stress. In our fast-paced, constantly on-the-move society, you cannot avoid stress. Our daily moods, energy, and strength seem dictated by it. And it's not just our mental outlook: Heart disease and hypertension, among other illnesses, are exacerbated by stress. There are ways to manage the stresses of everyday life, however, and walking is - not surprisingly - one of our favorite choices.
More than 31 million Americans have introduced walking into their everyday routine, and for most, it has become an indispensable way of alleviating stress. Herbert Benson, M.D., associate professor at Harvard Medical School and founding president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Cambridge, Mass., attributes this to the repetitive motion of walking, which he describes as similar to meditation.
"Regular exercise produces an antidote against stress even before it occurs," agrees University of Nebraska psychologist and exercise physiologist Wes Sime, Ph.d. Sime bases his belief on a study contrasting exercisers' and non-exercisers' reactions to traumatic stimuli. The exercisers, on the whole, produced less stress hormones than the sedentary volunteers. Walking regularly also reduces the intensity of emotional triggers, which can lead to stress and stress-related conditions, such as headaches and depression.
3. Walking Improves Your Self-image. Walking also improves your self-image. "Exercise gives you a sense of strength and self-esteem that can't help but make you feel proud," says Mary Anne Benton, author of 30 Days to Body Esteem (Body Class, 1991). By setting short-term, reachable goals for your walking program, you prove to yourself that you are capable of success, and this often spills over into achieving goals in other areas of your life.
4. Walking Helps You Lose Weight. Last year 44 million Americans went on a diet. Despite these astounding numbers, one in three is still overweight. Why are so many diets not working? Simply modifying your eating pattern doesn't work for long-term weight control: exercise must be a part of any effective weight-loss program. Research shows that people who combine healthful eating with regular exercise, like walking, are more likely to keep off lost weight than those who only diet.
Dieting without exercise lowers your metabolism and causes muscle loss, which leads to a reduced number of calories being burned throughout the day. By contrast, regular walking burns calories and improves muscle fitness. This in turn speeds up your metabolism, allowing your body to burn fuel more efficiently, so you burn more calories throughout the day - even when you aren't exercising!
5. Walking Boosts the Immune System. Walking is one of the best ways to protect yourself from both the common cold and more serious illnesses, like cancer.
"Moderate exercise such as walking seems to prime the body's immune system, preparing it to fight disease-causing organisms," says David Neiman, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science. "Exercise seems to prepare the body in advance [of infection] - increasing the odds that the immune system will be able to head off a respiratory infection, for example, before we feel the first sniffle." Exercise also raises levels of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, both of which put immune cells on "active alert," making for a quicker response to an invasion. The heart rate and blood flow increase, speeding up the circulation of immune cells throughout the body.
6. Walking Tones Your Muscles. Walking tones your muscles, and toned muscles devour calories--lots of them. Unlike stored fat, muscles need extra fuel throughout the day to maintain themselves. This means that even when you are not exercising, you may need to consume more food because your muscles use up more calories.
Fit, firm muscles also enable you to support your own weight, play sports, act under stress, and lift heavy objects more effectively and efficiently. On a practical level, you'll be less likely to be injured shoveling snow or carrying luggage.
7. Walking Cures Back Pain. Research and anectodotal experience also proves that a moderate walking program is one of the most effective prescriptions for curing back pain. "Walking builds a strong foundation for a back. It is simple, inexpensive, and almost excuse-proof. It's a way for people to self-manage their backs and their pain," says Mark Doyne, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Texas Back Institute in Plano.
So how does walking help the 80% of Americans who suffer some type of back pain in their lifetime? For starters, your spine aligns itself in a natural way when you walk, and there's less pressure on it then than in a sitting position. A regular walking regimen builds endurance in the large muscle groups that support and stabilize the spine. And the increased blood flow stimulated by exercise brings additional oxygen and healing to injured ligaments, muscles, and discs.
8. Walking Prevents Osteoporosis. In America, one out of every four women over age 50 suffers from osteoporosis. Often called brittle bone disease, this ailment most commonly strikes women shortly after menopause, when a lack of estrogen causes a marked decrease in bone mass. Osteoporosis is linked to an amazing 1.5 billion bone fractures per year. However, recent studies have shown that by taking precautionary measures early in life women can possibly prevent - or even reverse - osteoporosis. Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., a physiologist at Tufts University, agrees. "You're never too sedentary or old to get started," she says. "You can become more youthful. You can turn back the clock."
9. Walking Increases Your Energy Level. While many people count on the effects of caffeine for short-term energy boosts, a walking program lifts your mood and energizes you for the entire day. And getting regular exercise helps you sleep better at night, making you more alert the following day.
How does walking work its magic? It prevents wide swings in blood-sugar levels, which drastically effect mood and energy levels. It improves your oxygen-delivery system, which makes you more alert. In addition, walking increases your ability to do high-intensity activities more easily, like running up stairs or chasing your dog.
10. Walking Improves Your Sex Life. Many people have found walking to be the spark they were looking for to recharge their sex lives.
Contemporary surveys show that moderate exercise increases libido, helps to maintain sexual prowess, and can ignite passion. How? Sex requires endurance, strength, and flexibility, which are all enhanced with a regular exercise routine. An increase in muscle tone leads to stronger contractions, and the stronger the contractions the more pleasurable they will be. Exercise also stimulates the flow of adrenaline and endorphins, the two "pleasure hormones."
According to James White, Ph.D., men who exercised four times a week for at least nine months enjoyed an increase in frequency of sexual intercourse and more orgasms. Fun foreplay, more exciting fantasies, and fewer "erectile failures" were also reported.
For both men and women, exercise such as walking stimulates the male sex hormone, testosterone, whose elevated levels are believed to stimulate sexual desire.
Adapted from Walking Magazine. 1996 Walking Magazine. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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