Prescription 2015: Walk This WayDecember 2, 2015 Written by JP [Font too small?]
These days there are more exercise alternatives than ever before. At community pools you can do aquatic aerobics and balance training. Athletic clubs and gyms offer a wide array of classes from Crossfit to Pilates, in addition to mind-body exercises such as Qigong, Tai Chi and various styles of yoga. Even traditional martial arts and boxing are now commonly practiced as novel ways of getting into better shape. From my perspective, this is a very positive trend. Keeping exercise interesting and varied helps a lot people stick to a regular fitness routine.
A reasonable argument can be made that walking is the most natural form of exercise known to mankind. However, it isn’t taken very seriously by a fair share of exercise and health enthusiasts. Ultimately, day-to-day strolling simply doesn’t inspire enough excitement or generate enough of a “burn” to seem like a real workout. If you agree, whether consciously or subconsciously, this blog is for you, because walking is serious medicine indeed.
Cardiovascular Benefits – A study appearing in the November 2015 edition of Circulation reports that walking regularly, at a moderate pace of about 3 miles per hour, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke by about half. Recent trials show that bouts of intense walking and simply taking “walking breaks” from sitting improve circulatory/endothelial function and insulin sensitivity, lower hormones (IGF-1 and IGFBP3) associated with cardiovascular risk and reduce elevations in post-meal triglycerides.
Pain Relief – Aches and pains, including chronic back pain, neck pain and fibromyalgia all respond well to walking therapy. What’s more, it doesn’t require a major shift in lifestyle. For instance, one study found that increasing the number of daily steps by 1,000 decreased neck pain by 14%. Another experiment reports that achieving a daily goal of 5,000 steps mitigates a variety of fibromyalgia symptoms. This is particularly interesting because fibromyalgia is frequently treated using medications that affect the body and brain. How is this relevant? A 2013 trial reveals that aerobic exercises, such as walking, elevate the levels of serotonin metabolites. Many antidepressants aim to increase serotonin availability in the brain.
Mental Health – The previously mentioned serotonin finding may explain why walking is now being used to promote psychological well-being. And, don’t assume it’s only helpful for those with minor cases of “the blues”. A publication in the February 2015 issue of the British Journal of Cancer asserts that walking for 40 minutes/day, thrice-weekly, “is a feasible and effective method for managing anxiety and depression in lung cancer survivors”. Another study from this year documents a decline in depression and perceived stress after a 12 week walking program in patients with traumatic brain injuries. Lastly, a fascinating experiment determined that a “happy walking style” encouraged greater improvements in mood than a depressive style gait. This suggests that a “fake it until you make it” attitude potentiates the mental health effects of walking.
My hope is that by now even skeptics are beginning to see the scientific light about the importance of daily walking. However, I’m sure there are some who are reading this that aren’t particularly concerned with cardiovascular risk, pain or mental health issues. Just know that the long list of walking benefits extend to many other health conditions. To name but a few: Constipation due to medication use, COPD, erectile dysfunction and premature pregnancies are all positively influenced by walking. As a bonus, a series of experiments recently discovered that walking, especially outdoors, increases creativity and the “free flow of ideas”. Who couldn’t use more of that?
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:
Study 1 – Physical Activity and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke … (link)
Study 2 – Effect of Prolonged Sitting & Breaks in Sitting Time on Endothelial … (link)
Study 3 – Intense Walking Exercise Affects Serum IGF-1 and IGFBP3 … (link)
Study 4 – Interrupting Sitting Time w/ Regular Walks Attenuates Postprandial … (link)
Study 5 – Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Postprandial Carbohydrate and … (link)
Study 6 – The Effect of Daily Walking Steps on Preventing Neck & Low Back … (link)
Study 7 – Supervised Walking in Comparison w/ Fitness Training for Chronic … (link)
Study 8 – Adverse Events Experienced by Participants in a Back Pain Walking … (link)
Study 9 – Does Increasing Steps Per Day Predict Improvement in Physical … (link)
Study 10 – Effects of Physical Exercise on Serum Levels of Serotonin and its … (link)
Study 11 – Randomised Controlled Trial on the Effectiveness of Home-Based … (link)
Study 12 – A Home-Based Walking Study to Ameliorate Perceived Stress and … (link)
Study 13 – How We Walk Affects What We Remember: Gait Modifications … (link)
Study 14 – Ground-Based Walking Training Improves Quality of Life and … (link)
Study 15 – Aerobic Exercise Improves Gastrointestinal Motility in Psychiatric … (link)
Study 16 – A Home-Based Walking Program Improves Erectile Dysfunction … (link)
Study 17 – Effects of Walking Exercise During Late Trimester on Pregnancy … (link)
Study 18 – Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on … (link)
Regular Exercise Reduces Stress Hormone Levels
Source: PLoS One. 2015 Nov 3;10(11):e0141970. (link)
Tags: Depression, Fibromyalgia, Pain
Posted in Exercise, Heart Health, Mental Health