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Walking is helpful for health

14 Jun 2022

Walking is helpful for health
—Dr. M.K. Mam
Movement – mobility, we all know – is important. It is, in fact, the essence of life. In short, movement is life and life is movement. Importance of movement has  been nicely  explained by Einstein — “Life is  like riding a bicycle, to keep balance, you must keep moving”. It is important to move. Rather, we should move more and sit less. ‘To sit less and move more’  is the  basic mantra to stay active  and healthy. Any amount of movement is always better than  no movement at all.  Mr Martin Luther King Jr  has very rightly said that “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving”.
Walking is a great aerobic exercise. It is simple and can be enjoyed by everybody from young to older ones. It is a low impact and safe exercise. It can easily be incorporated into our daily routine. It involves  both functional and recreational activity. Good thing about  about walking is that it is free and has practically no negative side effects.
Why to walk? Walking is a big way to increase fitness, maintain and  improve your  health. Studies have shown that walking has a lot many health benefits, helps reduce prevalence  of many chronic medical diseases. 
1. Many studies have shown that walking reduces the chances  of having heart disease. Walking for 30 minutes  daily can reduce the risk of heart diseases by 30%. Research has shown that there is a positive correlation between walking and improved cardiovascular biomarkers. Walking improves cardiac risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, mental stress, cholesterol etc. Walking reduces risk of high cholesterol. It improves blood circulation.
2. Studies show that walking  reduces the risk of high  blood pressure.
3. Walking regulates blood sugar. It reduces the risk of diabetes, protects us from diabetes.
4. Walking is good for  bone, joint  and muscle  health. It is a weight-bearing exercise and as such makes lower limb bones stronger – increases bone density. It helps improve lubrication of joints. It tones and strengthens muscles. It also improves balance and reduce the risk of injury from falls. 
5. Walking helps weight loss.  It is an effective and inexpensive way to burn calories,  lose or maintain your weight. It really protects from obesity.
6. Walking improves mental health and helps uplift  the mood of a person. It helps protect us from dementia and depression. It also helps reduce stress and makes us feel energised.
7. Lung capacity also increases by walking. We breathe in more of oxygen as compared to when we are stationary.
8. Walking is also known to help boost immunity and reduce the risk of frequent infections. 
9. Walking reduces health care cost to a  person and society  by improving  overall  health of a person by reduction of   risks of various medical problems like heart, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity etc. 
When to walk? Morning walk outside in natural surroundings  is a thing that has been spoken about a lot since a long time and is enjoyed by most of the people.  Morning  is ideally the right time to walk or do any exercises as air is usually fresh,  its quality  is better, pollution is less and there is more of oxygen in the air as compared to that of afternoons and evenings. Henry David Thoreau has  very rightly  said that “an early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day”. However, people who cannot spare time in the morning because of one or other reason, one can  walk in the afternoon or evening. It is not good to walk immediately after lunch or dinner; you can just stroll. Walking can be incorporated in our daily tasks. We can very well  walk to store, office as far as possible. If it is not possible, we can drive and park the vehicle  farther away, and then walk to our destination. Again, avoiding the elevator and walking up the stairs as far as possible is good. Thing is that walking has to be done.
Where to walk: Walking is a thing that can be done anywhere outdoors or indoors. Walking outside in a park or any natural surroundings has its own charm; it gives an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature. Again, change of scenery gives a good feeling. Nature is also known to be a natural  de-stressor. So, a walk outside may help reduce our stress and elevate mood. We should avoid walking on hard surfaces, especially when  lower limb joints – knees and hips are not in perfect health. It is always better to walk on turf.  
How much to walk? This is the question usually asked by the people, whenever we talk about walking . People usually speak about going on long walks. That is good. More you do is better, especially for children and young adults. As walking is low impact, less intensive than running, it is good to have long walks. Overdoing- overuse and abuse is not good for joints, especially in middle and old age, as it strains the joints and exhausts our energy. Brisk walk for 30 minutes  a session per day for most of the days of the week (at least 150 minutes  per week) is recommended, depending on our overall capacity,  medical status etc. 
How often to do it? As a  matter of fact walking or any exercise has to be done daily. We have do it regularly.It cannot just be a weekend activity. It has to be a MUST TO DO activity of our daily routine. 
What should be the speed of walking? Walk has to be brisk.  Brisk walk - a moderate intensity exercise, is always good for our health. What is a brisk walk? It is somewhat vague.  It  is relative and can mean differently to different people.  Brisk walk means that walking  has to be faster  than stroll (at least 2.5 km per hour). One measure to quantify brisk walk is that we should be walking at least 100 steps per minute.  Brisk walk being a moderate intensity exercise increases heart rate as  heart  beats faster,  breathing becomes little harder and we experience mild sweat. A simple way to assess whether we are on a brisk walk is to talk while we walk- so-called talk test. If we can talk comfortably with some breathlessness, that means we probably are walking at moderate but brisk pace. If we cannot talk freely as we  feel out of breath, it means it is more than brisk walk, i. e., the exercise is vigorous. Again, if while walking we can speak but cannot sing, means we are on a brisk walk. It is necessary to start with a slow walk for some minutes just to warm up and then  increase the speed. Again, it is essential to cool down -  slowdown in the final couple of minutes. Warm up before and cool down after the walk is necessary to prevent injury to muscles and other tissues. The distance we can walk in 30 minutes depends on overall  fitness and medical status of the person.
What all is required? We do not need any special equipment to walk. We just need comfortable shoes. Soft sole shoes- walking shoes are preferable as  they act as impact absorbent, reduce the stress on the joints of lower limbs. We need to wear comfortable clothes. All that is needed is the motivation to walk – determination to do it daily. There has to a be a commitment of time and effort. Keeping all the health benefits in mind, we need to start walking as it is simple- easy, free and can be done anywhere. It is good that we do not talk or converse during walking. It is not uncommon to see people using mobile phones while walking, that is not good. The use of  mobile phone while walking is harmful as the amount of radiation increases as we keep moving. 
Treadmill v/s conventional overground walking: In modern era, there is an overall trend-fashion of going to gyms especially in our youth. People won’t walk, have lost the habit of walking . People drive to gyms to work out even if it is not very far – it is at a walking distance. Overground walking is better as we can enjoy nature when we walk outdoor in park etc. It is certainly an open area whereas treadmill is a closed area in your room or in gym. Again, commonly-used treadmills may not allow changing the speed or direction of walking. Conventional walking is free; We do not have to pay. It is not electricity dependent as is the case with treadmill. It spares you from consuming electricity as such it  saves energy which is high in demand and short in supply. n

(Dr. M. K. Mam is the former Vice-Principal, Prof. and Head, Orthopaedics, Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, Punjab.)