Walking is the number one form of exercise in the world, according to the Los Angeles Times, with 70 percent of the human population preferring this physical activity to others. It’s no wonder why, given the ease, accessibility and physical and psychological benefits of walking for nearly everyone.
Let’s take a closer look at the value of walking, beginning with the compelling physical advantages of even moderate walking on a regular basis.
- Heart health – Walking has been found to be healthier for the heart than running. In a study of 48,000 people over six years, those who walked regularly cut their risk of heart disease by 9.3 percent, while runners reduced theirs by only 4.5 percent. Walking is also better at reducing the high cholesterol and blood pressure that leads to heart attack or stroke – by as much as 27 percent, according to the Heart and Stroke Association.
- Weight loss – Walking not only burns calories, it tackles the visceral fat around the belly.
- Reduced risk of diabetes and lowered blood sugar – A half hour of walking has been shown to cut the risk of diabetes by 60 percent, which makes sense, considering that diabetes can be caused by storage of high amounts of visceral fat. Even a 15-minute walk can reduce the spike in blood sugar many seniors experience after eating and help their bodies use blood sugar and insulin more effectively.
- Decreased risk of injury and falls – While this may seem counterintuitive (many seniors worry that more walking means more falling), walking improves balance, mobility and flexibility by strengthening and stabilizing the lower body.
- Dementia prevention – A 2013 study showed that three half-hour walks per week enlarged the memory and information processing centers of the brain, which tends to shrink with age.
- Bone and joint strengthening, pain reduction – Contrary to erroneous opinion, walking relieves (not worsens) arthritis and back pain because it strengthens bones and joints over time and reduces stiffness and inflammation.
- Increased Vitamin D – There’s nothing like a walk in the sun to get the natural Vitamin D all healthy bones need.
- Improved circulation – Walking improves circulation, thereby helping prevent artery blockage and encouraging healthy blood flow.
- Improved sleep – Walking improves sleep function by decreasing anxiety, raising body temperature (followed by lowered temperatures that aid sleeping) and maintaining a healthy weight to ward off sleep apnea.
- Improved mood and mental health – Walking increases serotonin levels in the brain and endorphins that help us feel happier, more optimistic, less anxious and depressed.
- Increased social engagement – Walking with a group of friends or neighbors is not only good for health and wellness, it’s a wonderful way to stay connected socially and engage in conversation. Even a walk alone is bound to present opportunities to see and meet others who are also out and about.
- Increased independence – Walking without assistance is the top determinant of whether one can live independently or not. “If you want to stay healthy and mobile well into old age, start walking today – even if you’ve already edged into old age,” said Howard LeWine, chief medical director at Harvard Health Publishing. A trial including 1,600 relatively frail men and women aged 70-89 showed that the half who were randomly assigned to a regular walking program were 28 percent less likely to become disabled after two and a half years than the half who participated in gentle stretching exercises without walking.
Ease and Accessibility
- It’s affordable – With the exception of a good pair of walking shoes, walking costs nothing. It requires no expensive equipment or membership fees.
- You can do it almost anywhere – While walking in traffic, construction zones or otherwise hazardous areas is not recommended, walking can be done on sidewalks, safe streets, trails, golf courses, in shopping malls, parks, museums…the possibilities are endless!
Taking Strides in Naperville and at Monarch Landing
DuPage County’s Springbrook Prairie system and the Naperville Riverwalk make this neck of the woods a veritable walker’s paradise. For those who want to trek together, there are abundant walking groups and clubs. Google “walking groups in Naperville,” and at least 10 sites devoted to walking immediately fill the screen, with names like Wednesday Walking Club, Happy Feet Walker’s Club, Walking Meetups, Naper Settlement Walking Club, and more.
Monarch Landing residents get out and about all over Naperville and beyond. But they need go no farther than our own 80 acres of trails and walking paths to get the best of healthful exercise, gorgeous scenery alive with wildlife all year long, fresh air that lifts mood and mind, and friends to share the experience.
Monarch Landing also has weekly walking classes, like Happy Hike on Thursdays and a four-week Walk Right class that focuses on all the components of a healthy walk – head up, natural shoulder movement, arm swing, tummy tight, heel-toe-ball roll.
In the wise words of Monarch Landing fitness specialist Shannon Denny, “More and more research shows that when you take the legs out of exercise, or out of your life, your brain health begins to deteriorate. Neurologically, if you can’t move your legs, specifically in a weight-bearing situation, your brain is drastically affected.”
You’re never too old to start exercising. Once you check with your physician and are deemed fit to get even fitter, put on your walking shoes and take a step in a very healthy direction!