Walking. It’s the Best Medicine

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. Now that I’ve turned the corner on seventy, I’ve become more concerned with my health. It was probably the pandemic that did it, but the last few years I’ve worried more about my overall health than ever.

Being confined to the house made me realize how much time I spend sitting each day. I sit at the computer to write and sit in my rocker-recliner to watch TV. Sit, sit, sit. I was recently made aware of how bad sitting for prolonged periods is for your overall health. Research has linked sitting for long periods of time to a number of health concerns, including obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Sitting can damage your heart, shorten your life, even increase your chances of getting dementia. You risk weight gain, osteoporosis, varicose veins, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which can lead to blood clots. As well, no matter how ergonomic your chair is, sitting too long wrecks your back. It also causes your anxiety to spike and increases your risk for some cancers and diabetes.

So, what are you supposed to do if your job requires you to sit for prolonged periods of time?

You balance your sitting with exercise, and one of the easiest exercises, one of the cheapest, and one that can be done by anyone anywhere is walking. Invest in a good pair of walking shoes. You won’t regret it.

Of course, you know that any physical activity, including walking, is good for your health. As kids, we were always outside, running, jumping, swimming, sledding, cycling, and walking. Most of us walked to school, unlike kids who get bussed. But walking comes with a host of benefits. According to Harvard Health Publishing, here’s a list of five benefits of walking that may surprise you.

1. It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes. Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes contribute to body weight. They then discovered that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those genes were cut in half.

2. It helps tame a sweet tooth. A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations. And the latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks.

3. It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers already know that any physical activity blunts the risk of breast cancer. But an American Cancer Society study that zeroed in on walking found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. And walking provided this protection even for the women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.

4. It eases joint pain. Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain, and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.

5. 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 5 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.

Since I live in an area that makes it hard to get outside to walk every day. I’ve invested in a treadmill for the days when i just can’t get out to walk. Can I match the number of hours I sit with the number I walk? Not even close, but I’m trying. Every step is a step in the right direction. So, now, I’m going to get up and move around for a bit. Have a nice day, and don’t forget to take time to walk!

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About Susanne Matthews

I'm a retired high school English teacher turned author. I'm Canadian. My husband and I have been married 48 years and have 3 children and 5 grandchildren, as well as 2 step-grandchildren.  I enjoy traveling, especially somewhere warm in winter.

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