The next time you go for a checkup, your doctor may give you a prescription for walking. “It’s the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” says Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Done correctly, walking has a myriad of powerful health benefits — from weight loss to reducing cardiovascular and dementia risks — and its simplicity lends itself to all ages and all walks of life.
Here are some well researched benefits of walking:
- It counteracts the actions of weight-promoting genes. Harvard researchers studied obesity-promoting genes in 12,000 obese people and found that in those who walked briskly every day, the effects of these genes were slashed in half.
- It lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), walking at a lively pace for 150 minutes a week improves blood pressure and lowers blood cholesterol levels.
- It increases longevity. The AHA estimates that for every hour of brisk walking, life expectancy for some people may increase by two hours.
- It beats osteoporosis. According to American Bone Health, weight bearing activity is critical for bone health. It’s called “osteogenic loading” and helps bone cells assimilate more calcium and other minerals to increase bone density. Walking with a wide stride helps load your bones to prevent osteoporosis.
- It eases anxiety and depression. A large Australian study showed that moderate-intensity exercise such as walking improved the quality of life for middle-aged women. One in 10 U.S. adults suffers from depression, according to the CDC, and women are 70% more likely to be depressed at some point in their lives than men.
- It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. An American Cancer Society study found that women who walked seven or more hours weekly had a 14% lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer.
- It curbs your cravings for sweets. Studies from the University of Exeter revealed that a 15-minute walk can reduce cravings for chocolate and even reduce the amount of chocolate consumed in stressful situations.
- It eases joint pain. The Arthritis Foundation says that walking actually supports your joints by infusing them with oxygen and other nutrients. “If you don’t walk, joints are deprived of life-giving fluid, which can speed deterioration,” says the Foundation.
- It boosts brain function in those with dementia. While some studies have shown that walking helps boost creative and cognitive thinking by getting “creative juices flowing,” a blockbuster study by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada showed that people with dementia who walked for one hour, three times a week, not only had lower blood pressure but their brains showed improvement on cognitive tests. Researchers concluded that the walkers had more efficient brains and better thinking skills than the control group.
- It boosts the immune system. According to Harvard Health, a study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week, took 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less.