When’s your next physical exam coming up? Don’t be surprised if your doctor gives you a simple no-cost prescription- get out and walk. And, if you are walking, walk some more. The simple activity is described by Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former head of the CDC, as “the closet thing we have to a wonder drug.”
Here are five key benefits recently outlined by the Harvard Medical School in “Walking for Health:”
- Walking counteracts the negative effects of obesity-promoting genes. The Harvard Medical team studied 12,000 people focusing on 32 weight-promoting genes. They found that, for those who walked briskly for an hour a day, the impact of the “bad genes” was cut in half.
- Walking reduces your cravings for sweets. The University of Exeter found that a quarter-hour walk could reduce the amount of chocolate and other sugary snacks you eat, even in stressful situations.
- Walking can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. An American Cancer Society study found that women who walked 7 or more hours per week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three or fewer hours per week. And, this reduction applied even to women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.
- Walking eases joint pain. Several studies have shown that walking can not only reduce arthritis joint pain, but walking at least 5 to 6 miles per week can even prevent arthritis from forming to begin with. Walking lubricates knees and hips and strengthens the muscles that support them.
- Walking boosts the immune function. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes per day, five days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once or not at all each week. And, if the walkers got sick, it was for a shorter duration and their symptoms were milder.
That concludes Walking 101- encouraging all to walk five times a week perhaps an hour a day. Now, we turn to Walking 201- encouraging all of those who are walkers to move it up a level. The NYT had a nice article on how you can do that:
- Try the “Nordic” way. The Finns started this one. The idea was an off-season way for cross-country skiers to train. Nordic walkers use specially designed poles with rubber tips to grab the pavement and to engage the arms and core muscles. Presto- a walk turned into a full-body workout. As compared to general walking, the Nordic method increases the calories expended by 22% and the oxygen consumption by 23%. Leki and Black Diamond are well known suppliers of this equipment.
- Bring some fun and novelty to your walks. Alastair Humphreys, who wrote the book “Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes” provides some fun examples. He suggests you walk or bike down a different street in your neighborhood regularly. See if you can walk every street in your area and while doing it “see things with fresh and open eyes, as if for the very first time.” Bill Burnett, executive director of the Life Design Lab at Stanford, suggests considering scavenger hunts for secret staircases or orange flowers or go for a full-moon hike without a flashlight. “Keep it silly, not serious.”
- Add some props. You might add a weighted backpack. A suggestion is to start with no more than 15 pounds using a backpack with a full hip belt, which, when properly cinched, transfers the weight to your legs while you walk. A set of elastic exercise bands can be added to your pack and you can do some sumo walks- a dynamic strength building exercise.
- Multitask to make it happen. Park your car 10-15 minutes from work or school. Walk the rest of the way in and out and decompress while doing it. And, if you have like minded colleagues, consider a walking meeting instead of Zoom call.
- Add a little music or a podcast. No surprise, studies have shown that music during a walk or intense training session has been shown to reduce the perceived exertion and increase the physical performance. The studies showed similar results for those engaged in any type of “preferential listening” while working out.
- Lastly, consider “fartlek” workouts. No, this is not something that guys like John Belushi do. It’s a Swedish word meaning “speed play.” It means interval training with a series of high intensity bursts with recovery periods between them. It’s not about your fitbit, it simply can mean increasing your walk to a light jog or a power walk for a short stretch to get your heart rate up, then slow back down, recover and repeat. An 80/20 ratio of low intensity/high intensity intervals can help you get fitter faster.
We encourage you to try to do more walking. If you’re already walking, we encourage you to take it the next level. Both can be a wonder drug for you. Happy Walking and Happy Fartleking! Enjoy your summer!