There are numerous benefits of walking, mental and physical. It is a much easier, safer exercise than all those complicated exercises as advertised which require expensive personal trainers, gym machines and a rather large proportion of the day.
It is far less stressful with even more benefits than all that. It is therefore, recommended by physicians in all fields. It is recommended for people of all ages, healthy or not, male or female. Walking has its benefits for all.
Take a look at individuals with certain health conditions. People on borderline for diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol problems never hear their physician tell them to hit the gym and workout on complicated machines till they drop off. Instead, physicians will always start by recommending regular walks.
In fact, it is not just diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol levels that can be helped with this. It is a number of other diseases, even those that have a genetic predisposition can at least be delayed with the help of regular walks.
Medical practitioners find it very favourable for their patients, be it a heart patient, a young athlete, a middle aged women towards menopause, a child yet to have another growth spurt and so on. Even patients who might be fit physically, but in emotional stress or recovering from a difficult phase in their life, are recommended regular early morning walks for a healthier mind and outlook on life in general.
Walking and physical health
Before getting into how it can help prevent a disease, delay the onset of a disease or reduce symptoms of one, let us discuss the simple benefits that can be reaped of walking.
Walking improves circulation. And this is where you benefit the most. The muscles, ligaments and joints of the body need maximum circulation to gain ample nutrients and oxygen, without which they will not only get weak but over time, they will also lose their function, flexibility and smooth movement. Likewise, sprains or muscle spasms will be more frequent and difficult to overcome.
Walking can play a key role in weight loss. Any walk that makes you slightly breathless and makes you feel like your body is actually working, can help with weight loss. This is important to understand so you do not count that long walk from one lecture hall to the next, or that one time you walked across the playground as actual walk. Those, in no way will help reduce weight.
A proper walk will mobilize all those stored fats and carbohydrates from your body and use them up right away to give you energy.
Walking is also extremely beneficial for bones. Walking involves all the weight bearing bones of the body. A person who
does not walk much, does not use the bones much either. So instead, the body itself starts taking out calcium from the bones so it can utilize this mineral for other functions. And just like that, your normal and healthy bones start to lose their density and strength.
Many painful and progressively worsening diseases can be prevented by a short, regular 30 minute walk every day. These include arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiac conditions, fatty livers, muscular and joint problems, hypertension, diabetes and the list goes on.
Walking and mental health
One of the very few things other than sedatives which help with insomnia is a walk. Be it a morning walk or a walk in the evening, it is known to help with insomnia and improve the quality of sleep, so that the person wakes up fresh and with a clear, active mind the next day.
Another benefit of walking is that it activates the natural analgesia system of the body, releasing hormone-like substances in the blood that help lower stress and improve the mood.
Walking also improves the overall functions and activity of the brain. It helps improve memory, learning, behavioral responses and functions. It even affects social behaviours in people. This is primarily why rehab centres, old homes, psychiatric wards, always take patients for walks in a healthy, beautiful environment.
In a way, walking is like meditation. It gives you time to think, releases substances in your body that help reduce stress and calms down your nerves. Imagine what an early morning walk in the park, when the weather is also very pleasant, can do for you.
There are a number of degenerative brain disorders that can be prevented or the symptoms slowed down and reduced by regular walks. In patients with memory loss due to trauma, dementia due to a genetic predisposition, walks are prescribed as part of their treatment.
Why walking can be better than running?
Popular opinion will probably tell you that running is better than walking as it burns more fat. Truth is, both can burn equal calories, one of them just takes longer.
Running is more stressful on the body, and not always in a good way. For those suffering from heart disease, running can be very risky. The more they run, more the oxygen depletion in muscles causing the heart to beat faster and with more force than normal, exhausting and overburdening it.
For people who have always had an unhealthy lifestyle, with fatty foods, hardly any exercise, smoking and the like, running can be risky.
Such people are very likely to have fatty deposits in the walls of their arteries, making their lumen smaller so that the heart has to pump with greater force to keep up with the oxygen and nutrient demand of the muscles involved. Whereas in simply walking, calories are burnt just the same but with almost no over stress of the heart.
Running also exposes the individual to higher risks of sprains, fractures, cartilage damage in knees, all of which are at a much greater risk of wear and tear than they are during walking. In fact, the susceptibility to certain illnesses is also increased in runners than it is in those who walk, with the illness or injury being severer and lasting longer.
Earlier on, the mental health benefits of walking were discussed. None of those can be associated to running. Running cannot compare to the peace and quiet of an early morning walk that relieves emotional stress. The physical benefits to be gained by both are many, but even in that, walking can come out the winner.
It does not require one to take out a lot of time from their busy schedules, done a new workout outfit every day, grab a gym bag and go to a personal trainer. Neither does it require one to invest in expensive machinery or work out equipment. It also does not stress your body so much that you are too sore to move a muscle for the rest of the day. So to conclude, walking is a complete exercise in itself with all the benefits that other workouts can give.