As humans, we learn to walk very early on, and most of us walk at least a little bit every day. It seems so simple, does not cost anything and does not take much effort. So, how can something as simple as walking keep us healthy, encourage creativity, improve our outlook on life, and even help us live longer, more independent lives?
We have all been warned of the risk factors for developing heart disease: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking, among others. As we age, our risk of developing heart disease also increases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One of every four deaths results from heart disease; that’s about 600,000 deaths per year. For years, studies have shown that people who exercise daily are able to reduce their blood pressure, waistlines and cholesterol, thus reducing their risk of developing heart disease. In a recent Australian study, researchers discovered that those who rarely exercise are twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who walk often and six times more likely than those who exercised vigorously every day. Even a half hour of walking each day can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
If a healthy heart is not enough incentive for you to take a walk, how about a healthy brain? In multiple studies, researchers have seen both animals and humans perform better in memory and decision-making tests after exercising. Moderate exercise, like walking, has even been linked to creativity. At Stanford University, study participants were given a series of tasks that involved creative thinking. For example, a participant may have been asked to come up with an alternate use for a common object, like a button or a cup. The participants were then asked to take the same test while walking on a treadmill. The responses were far more creative when participants were walking. Even more interesting is that very little change was seen between indoor walks on the treadmill and outdoor, more scenic walks. It seems that it is simply the walking that spurs creativity, not where the walking takes place.
In addition to enhancing creativity, memory, and decision-making skills, walking also helps improve mood. Particularly in senior citizens, walking can help develop feelings of self-worth, sense of purpose, and may greatly reduce the likelihood of clinical depression. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and walking can impact both in a positive way.
As we age, our goal should be to remain independent and active as long as possible. Doctors will often tell patients, “Use it or lose it.” For people over age 65, walking can provide real health benefits for maintaining mobility and independence. Once we become sedentary, we lose muscle mass and aerobic capacity. In essence, if we stop moving, we eventually begin to lose our ability to move around as easily as we once did. For those at risk of osteoporosis or arthritis, even a little bit of walking will also help stimulate and strengthen bones and maintain our joints.
Walking comes easily to most people. Here are five reasons to go for a walk today!
- Healthier Heart – Greatly reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
- Healthy Mind – Improve your decision making ability, memory and even creative thinking.
- Strong Bones and Muscles – Weight bearing activity can stimulate bones and maintain joints. It can also keep muscles toned.
- Healthy Outlook on Life – Improve your mood and reduce your likelihood of clinical depression.
- Remain Independent – Use it; don’t lose it! Maintain mobility, muscle mass, and aerobic capacity to help you live an active and independent lifestyle.
The good news is, it’s never too late to start. So start today. One foot in front of the other and you will soon walk your way into a happier, healthier life.