Exercise isn’t nearly as popular or practiced as it needs to be in America, and the rest of the world isn’t faring so hot, either — especially considering that a moderate amount of daily exercise is enough to keep all sorts of debilitating diseases like diabetes and heart disease at bay. If you’re someone who knows you could use a bit more exercise in your day-to-day life, but inexperience or nerves keep you from joining a gym or enlisting the help of a personal trainer, don’t despair.
It turns out that walking — yes, that activity you’ve been engaging in since around your first birthday — may be the very best exercise you can get, and it’s something almost anyone can do without any training, at any fitness level, and with very little monetary investment. If you need your arm twisted a bit as to why walking may be the best exercise available, here are seven reasons to say, “Uncle,” and head out for a stroll.
Less Stress on the Body
Running is the most popular form of exercise in the United States, and while it undoubtedly provides excellent fitness and health benefits, it can also be hard on joints — especially in aging runners. Walking, on the other hand, is a low-impact activity that keeps joints strong and loose well into old age. Because exercise puts some stress on the body — it’s the effort that benefits us, after all — choosing an activity that’s easier on joints, muscles, and tendons makes it an excellent choice for someone who hopes to exercise and stay healthy their whole life long.
It Works for All Ages and Fitness Levels
Whether you’re 25 or 85, walking is an exercise you can do. While some precautions may need to be taken for people who are older — extra care during bad weather, walkers, canes, and the like — it’s still more than possible for even the very aged to take an afternoon walk for health benefits, and because it can be tailored to people of all fitness levels, you’ll never be too fit or too out of shape to take a walk. The athlete may need to walk longer and harder than the beginner, but walking is truly an inclusive exercise. So, grab your grandmother, and strap on your pedometers for an exercise you both can enjoy.
Reduces Heart Disease Risk
Heart disease is still the number one killer in America, and walking is an ideal way to combat it. In fact, researchers in California found that, in some cases, walking is a more effective weapon against heart disease than running. For six years, the scientists monitored people between the ages of 18 and 80, and they found that walking reduced participants’ risk of heart disease by almost 10 percent, while running reduced the risk by less than five percent.
It Strengthens Your Heart
In addition to reducing your risk for heart disease, walking is a boon to your heart’s overall strength. Blood pressure is more easily maintained within healthy levels, which can cut your risk of stroke by almost 30 percent. Also, walking helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, while it raises HDL (good) cholesterol. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other gets your heart and blood pumping more quickly and more effectively, which also benefits your entire circulatory system.
It Prevents Dementia
One in six people over 80 suffer from dementia, and regular exercise cuts the risk of developing it at all by 40 percent. Simply walking as much as six miles per week reduces brain shrinkage in the elderly and helps preserve memory. Since walking is one of the easiest exercises for the elderly to engage in, making it a part of your daily practice will make aging less disruptive mentally and physically.
It Keeps Weight at a Healthy Level
While any type of cardiovascular exercise is going to help you burn calories and trim your waistline, walking — because it’s so easy for anyone to partake in — is an ideal way to keep your weight at a healthy level. Whether you do it three times a week or every day, take a brisk walk on a regular basis to keep obesity at bay.
It Increases Happiness
All exercise boosts the exerciser’s mood, and some studies have even shown that brisk walking is as effective as antidepressant medications in mild to moderate depression. If you could use a few feel-good endorphins rushing through your blood, reducing your anxiety, and, in general, making you want to whistle, take a 30-minute walk every day.
Exercise is a key component to living a healthy life — no matter what age you are, and while there are many excellent types of exercise to choose from, walking may be the cream of the entire fitness crop. From its ageless appeal to its ability to lower heart disease risk, walking just might be the fountain of youth we’re all looking for.