As exercise enthusiasts and researchers can attest, walking is great for relieving arthritis-related pain and minimizing joint damage – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, says Robin Dore, MD, clinical professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of California Los Angeles. “The real question is, what can’t walking do?” says Dr. Dore. “The benefits to both body and mind are myriad.” Here are just a few.
1. A longer life. A study from Dutch researchers in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who did moderate physical activity – such as walking about 30 minutes a day – lived an average of 1.3 years longer than their couch-potato peers, possibly because their physical activity was linked to lower levels of cardiovascular disease.
2. More mobility. Older adults who walked regularly decreased their risk of disability by 41 percent, according to a recent study from the University of Georgia. What’s more, researchers found that participants – who started walking just 10 minutes a day and in three months worked up to 40 minutes daily – increased their physical functioning by 25 percent.
3. A better mood. Several studies have shown that regular exercise, including walking, improves mood in people with depression as well as those without mood disorders by stimulating brain chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. Among the evidence, a 2005 study from researchers at Duke University found that older adults who walked several times a week had lower rates of depression than those who didn’t exercise.
4. A reduced risk of diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that moderate physical activity, such as walking, for just two to two and a half hours a week – that’s about 17 to 22 minutes a day – reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. In fact, University of Michigan researchers revealed that a single 90-minute treadmill walking session improved the way that insulin-sensitive women who were at risk for diabetes metabolized blood sugar. Researchers think that walking improves the way the body processes insulin. It also reduces belly fat – the type that’s linked to increased odds of developing diabetes.
5. Better brains. Research shows that walking boosts brainpower and reduces memory loss. A recent study published in the online edition of Neurology showed that people over 65 who walked at least six miles per week were less likely to develop memory problems, and those who walked the most cut their risk of memory loss in half. In another study, researchers from the University of Illinois followed sedentary adults, ages 59 to 80, as they joined a walking group. They found that walking for 40 minutes three times a week enhanced brain connectivity, improving cognitive skills and the ability to do complex tasks, and helped reduce a decline in brain function associated with aging.