By David Wilkening, Contributing Writer
REGION – On your next visit to your family doctor, would you be surprised if the hand-written prescription was this legible one: “Walk”? Free medical advice, of course. And not a drug with any after-effects. So a surprise, right?
But this prescription is known as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” in the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of course, you probably know that any physical activity, including walking, is a boon to your overall health. But walking in particular comes with a host of benefits.
Many health benefits
The simple activity of walking has so many powerful health benefits. That was confirmed by a recent study from Harvard Medical School that also cited other studies finding similar results.
“Done correctly, it can be the key to losing weight, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and boosting your memory, as well as reducing your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more,” the Walking For Health study found. Of course, you probably know that any physical activity, including walking, is a boon to your overall health. The report cited studies that showed a list of “surprising” specific benefits, ranging from protection from chronic inflammation to reducing risks from breast cancer.
Researchers called it the “most perfect exercise.” And the perhaps facetious suggestion that MDs in the future might routinely prescribe it as medication (some already do).
Walking can have a bigger impact on disease risk and various health conditions than just about any other remedy that’s readily available to you, according to the report. Added benefits, of course: It’s free. Without any negative side effects.
So skeptics might ask: Just how far do you have to walk?
You can do it anywhere with no equipment
The Harvard paper cited various existing studies that found walking for 2.5 hours a week or just 21 minutes a day, can cut your risk of heart disease by 30 percent.
In addition, this do-anywhere, no-equipment-required activity has also been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep you mentally sharp.
“In fact, according to some estimates, walking regularly could save Americans over $100 billion a year in health care costs. Even a quick one-minute jaunt pays off,” the report found. A University of Utah study in 2014 found that for every minute of brisk walking that women did throughout the day, they lowered their risk of obesity by 5%.
It’s hardly a surprise any more than various studies have found just a 10-minute walk can help you reduce your chances of early death as well as maintain or lose weight. Yet other studies found that typically four in ten older adults fail to even manage that ten minutes.
The Harvard study concludes: “No more ‘I don’t have time’ excuses!”
Community gains and other benefits
Start walking, and you’ll be helping to make your community stronger, too, according to the Harvard study.
Social scientists have found that as more people take to the streets, neighborhood crime rates fall and the local economy improves. “It’s also a wonderful way to meet new people and connect with neighbors. Take a walk with your children after dinner. It can promote better communication, reduce behavior problems, and improve academic performance,” it added.
Walking can even help your mood. A number of studies have found that it’s as effective as drugs for decreasing depression. It can help relieve everyday stresses, too. Tension starts to ease as the road stretches out in front of you. Mood-elevating endorphin levels increase. Many people say that walking helps clear the mind, too—you may even find the solution to a problem that’s been bugging you.
Still another study found it boosts immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. “A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least five days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.
The Boston Public Health Commission also cited various benefits from walking, including health benefits such as lower blood pressure and others. And they cited that it also “makes you feel good” and it costs little or no money. And “It’s easy. Anyone can do it.”
The commission also cited some practical ways of encouraging walking habits such as adopting a dog (for walks of course) and taking short walks to stores and other destinations in lieu of driving your car.