By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.
How much would you pay for a magic pill that would increase your lifespan by three-and-a-half years? For most, a lot! “A man will give up everything he owns in exchange for his life.” (Job 2:4) Not necessary. There is a simple activity that is now being touted as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” in the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the CDC
I’m talking about walking. According to a Harvard Medical School study, all it takes is 30 minutes of walking five days a week to increase your lifespan by three-and-a-half years. Just 15 minutes a day resulted in almost two extra years. Work up to an hour a day, and you could live more than four years longer. And with all the other benefits of walking, those extra years are likely to be very good o
In addition, research found that walking for 2.5 hours a week — that’s just 21 minutes a day — can cut your risk of heart disease by 30%. In addition, it has also been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep you mentally sharp.
Walking can even help your mood. A number of studies have found that it’s as effective as drugs for decreasing depression, as mood-elevating endorphin levels increase. It can help relieve everyday stresses, too. Tension starts to ease as the road stretches out in front of you. And many people find that walking helps clear the mind — you may even find the solution to a problem that’s been bugging you.
Every year, more and more studies document the benefits of regular exercise. It can help prevent or alleviate numerous health conditions, and unlike prescription drugs — which always seem to have prohibitive lists of side effects — it has effects that are overwhelmingly positive, such as improved mood, better sleep, and less stress.
But most Americans don’t do enough walking in the course of their daily lives to reap the myriad of health benefits it has to offer. This requires a more sustained effort, but it’s totally doable — and the rewards are worth it. Walking has been labeled the ideal form of exercise: (1) It’s easy; (2) It’s healthy; and (3) It’s fun.
#1 – It’s easy
Have you ever resolved on New Year’s Day to start exercising more — only to find that you didn’t have the time or couldn’t afford expensive lessons, classes, or gym fees? Maybe concerns about injuries kept you on the sidelines. Walking could be the way to keep your resolution. Here’s why:
* You already know how to do it. Just put one foot in front of the other. There’s no learning curve like you would have if you took up a new activity, such as Zumba or tennis.
* You can do it anywhere. Step out your front door. Take a walk from where you work. You can walk around areas that you frequent, such as the grocery store, a shopping center, a place of worship, the library, the doctor’s office, the hair salon, or the homes of friends and family. There are even indoor options, such as malls, office buildings, hospitals, or airports.
* You don’t need any special equipment. If you’re walking for exercise, it’s best to have a comfortable pair of shoes, preferably sneakers. But that’s it! While there are some items of clothing and gear that can make walking more enjoyable, but they are not essential.
* It’s gentle on your knees — and the rest of your body. Unlike running, you keep one foot on the ground at all times when you’re walking, making it a low-impact, joint-friendly type of exercise. Not surprising, then, that walkers have a much lower risk of exercise-related injuries than runners — just 1% to 5% for walkers, versus 20% to 70% for runners.
#2 – It’s healthy
More than 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates said, “Walking is a man’s best medicine.” Today, there’s a lot of research to back up his statement. The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which has been tracking the health behaviors of more than 200,000 women for more than three decades, has shown that moderate walking for an average of 30 minutes a day can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by 30% to 40%, and the risk of breast cancer by 20% to 30%. If you need more specific reasons to lace up your shoes and head out the door, here are a few:
* It protects your heart. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but in many cases, it is preventable. According to one study, a third of all heart attacks and deaths due to heart disease in middle-aged women could be avoided if the women simply walked for exercise.
* It helps stave off diabetes. Inactivity promotes Type 2 diabetes. Working your muscles more often and making them work harder improves their ability to use insulin and absorb blood sugar (glucose). This puts less stress on your insulin-making cells. One study found that a 15-minute walk immediately after every meal provided better blood sugar regulation than a single daily 45-minute morning walk.
* It helps lower blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a primary risk factor for heart disease and strokes, but walking is an effective way to lower blood pressure. Multiple short walks resulted in a lower average blood pressure over 24 hours and reduced the number of spikes throughout the day, compared with taking one longer walk.
* It reduces falls and fractures. Staying active keeps your muscles strong and flexible so you’ll be less likely to take a spill. And weight-bearing activities like walking will keep your bones stronger so you’ll be less likely to break one if you do fall.
* It reduces the risk of developing cancer. A 2008 study noted that exercise like brisk walking lowered risk for breast cancer and colon cancer. Now there’s solid evidence to demonstrate that exercise can also lower the risk of six other types of cancer — bladder, endometrial, esophageal, kidney, lung, and stomach. And for people who already have cancer, a study from England showed that walking can help reduce the side effects of treatment, improve quality of life, and possibly extend life.
* It helps tame a sweet tooth. If you’re a chocoholic who’s trying to cut back, start walking! The latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks.
* It improves sleep. A 45-minute morning walk or racking up 10,000 steps throughout the day have both been found to help you fall asleep faster, according to two separate studies. If you have insomnia, it may take a while for your sleep to improve.
* It sharpens your thinking. The hippocampus — a section of the brain that’s crucial to memory — typically shrinks by 1% to 2% a year in older adults. In one study, researchers found that walking six miles a week for a year not only offset the shrinkage, it actually increased hippocampal volume by 2%. Moreover, walking also appears to enhance connectivity between brain cells in parts of the brain that are typically affected by cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s.
* It boosts your mood. Anyone who’s taken a walk when feeling blue knows that it’s a great on-the-spot mood booster — and studies support this. But even for more serious depression, walking is a viable remedy. In fact, it can be just as effective as drugs, according to a 16-week study published in the journal Psycho-somatic Medicine.
* It eases joint pain. Walking lubricates joints and strengthens the surrounding muscles to keep them healthy. Studies have shown that walking five to six miles a week may even protect you from developing osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition of the joints that causes joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and weakness. Knees and hips are the most commonly affected joints.
#3 – It’s fun
To some people, exercise feels like drudgery. With walking, however, you can pamper yourself in multiple ways while still getting a workout.
* You can do it with others. Invite family, friends, or co-workers to join you for a walk. It’s a great way to catch up or get to know someone better. And if you need to have a tough conversation with someone, try doing it while walking. Striding side by side can make
discussions easier because you’re more relaxed than when you’re sitting face to face.
* You can get “me” time. Heading out by yourself can be a good way to escape the demands and expectations that occupy much of your time. As you stroll, you can clear your head, relax, and reflect. It can be valuable, quiet “me” time, allowing you to return refreshed. Or, listen to music or podcasts that you don’t seem to find the time for during the day.
* You can enjoy a dose of nature. Studies show that spending time in parks or near water can boost your mood. Walking is a great way to get out in nature.
* You can gain a new perspective. If you always drive through your downtown area, park your car one day and stroll instead. The world is different when you view it at 3 mph instead of 25 or 30 mph. You might discover an interesting shop, observe intricate architecture, or meet a friendly person. Walk around your neighborhood and strike up conversations with your neighbors. You might even pick up landscaping ideas.
* You can be more creative. Stanford University researchers found that people generated twice as many creative responses to problems when walking than sitting. And the creative juices continued to flow even when they sat down after their walk — another good reason to take a walking break during the workday.
In conclusion, many people — even walking fans — too often think that they have to be sweating or huffing and puffing for an activity to count as a workout. That simply isn’t the case. A Berkeley study found that when walkers and runners burned an equal number of calories from their workouts, they received similar health benefits over six years. Walkers and runners reduced their risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease by similar levels.
So don’t wait for your next doctor’s appointment to get inspired. Put on your shoes, step out the door, and rediscover the joys of walking. You can be confident that it counts as exercise, and that even if you don’t break a sweat, your body is benefiting. Some experts even claim that if exercise could be bottled, it would be the most prescribed medicine.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.