What is new about the benefits of walking?

A couple walking in Lisbon, Portugal. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A couple walking in Lisbon, Portugal. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

In order for man to succeed in life, God provided two means, education and physical activity. Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise can save it and preserve it.
—Plato 400 B.C.

Many studies have shown that higher-intensity exercise yields more favorable effects on mortality and disease risk than lower-intensity exercise. But lower-intensity exercises like walking have health benefits as well.

As we get older and our bodies start to slow down, people tend to spend thousands of dollars to fight off old age. There is a cheaper way to fight the aging process and preventing disease – walking! But until now there wasn’t much scientific research to back that by number.

As is known, benefits of walking are many. Walking can reduce risks of dementia, cancer and heart disease. One question which has not been answered is exactly how many steps people should walk per day to optimize those benefits.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (September 12, 2022) says walking 10,000 steps a day is a very healthy target and walking faster is even better.

Scientists from the University of Sydney and the University of Southern Denmark studied 78,500 adults in the U.K. between 2013 and 2015. The data set was composed of mainly white, healthy, well-educated individuals between 40 and 79 years old.

The study participants wore activity trackers 24 hours a day for one week, which recorded how many steps they walked as well as the pace at which they walked. Researchers looked at their health outcomes seven years later. Their results are summarised here:

  1. Walking 10,000 steps a day lowers the risk of dementia by about 50 per cent, the risk of cancer by about 30 per cent and the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 75 per cent.
  2. You don’t have to walk the full 10,000 steps a day to get significant health benefits. Every 2,000 steps walked lowered the risk of premature death incrementally by eight to 11 per cent, up to approximately 10,000 steps a day.
  3. The study found beyond 10,000 steps, health outcomes plateaued.
  4. Walking at a faster pace was associated with further benefits for all outcomes they measured. For example, walking 10,000 steps a day cuts the risk of dementia by 50 per cent — but walking at a faster pace can add an extra 10 to 15 per cent reduction in risk.
  5. Very high step counts – in the range of 20,000 steps and beyond – may actually decrease health benefits.
  6. This study is the first to examine the link between walking and health outcomes like cancer, dementia and cardiovascular diseases.

Over the years I have discussed the benefits of walking and exercise in my columns. There have been many studies published from various institutions promoting benefits of walking. If you have difficulty walking then take up swimming or other activity that will keep you moving.

There is a great need for any approach that could slow the rising epidemic of dementia, cancer and heart disease.

Move more and move often.

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Regular Exercise Relieves Symptoms of Chronic Conditions

A bird at Echodale Park. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
A bird at Echodale Park. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

There is one drug that can be free, safe and readily accessible. It is called exercise. Every person should be encouraged to take this drug to be happy and healthy. That is the message in an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (Prescribing exercise interventions for patients with chronic conditions, CMAJ April 19 2016)

Experts believe exercise is under prescribed and frequently overlooked often in favour of medications or surgery. Patients find taking painkillers is an easy way out than finding time for regular exercise. We are very busy making a living and raising a family. Finding time for regular exercise means making choices and sacrifices.

What are the benefits of regular exercise?

Studies have shown regular exercise plays a big role in prevention of coronary heart disease, stroke rehabilitation, treatment for heart failure and prevention of diabetes. Benefits of exercise are substantial for conditions that are not life threatening, like chronic back pain and osteoarthritis.

Outcomes for which exercise is effective

The authors of the CMAJ article reviewed evidence for the effectiveness of exercise for the following conditions: Arthritis of the hip and knee, chronic nonspecific low-back pain, prevention of falls, heart failure, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic fatigue syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.

The evidence is clear. Exercise helps.

To make sure the exercise program works for a patient the health care provider should monitor the progress in conjunction with the exercise specialist. Without appropriate guidance exercise is unlikely to achieve the desired outcomes.

Not all patients need to see an exercise specialist. Some of these exercises may be prescribed by family physicians. These are largely self-actioned by a patient (for example for falls prevention), whereas other interventions require a referral to a health care professional with expertise in exercise prescription (e.g., cardiac rehabilitation, exercise for chronic back pain or knee osteoarthritis and pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD).

For example, a person with chronic nonspecific low-back pain should see an exercise specialist to guide through a properly planned exercise therapy.

According to the CMAJ article, a typical program would comprise 20 hours of individually supervised sessions over 8–12 weeks and a home program. The type of exercise (e.g., yoga v. graded activity) seems less important than the quality of implementation (e.g., supervision, inclusion of a home program and duration of the program have been shown to improve treatment effect).

Exercise programs normally include an education component, incorporation of psychological principles, such as pacing or goal setting, and progress in functional activities, says the article.

The authors believe exercise is an effective but neglected treatment for many chronic conditions. Exercise is beneficial for many chronic conditions and can offer benefits that are comparable to taking painkillers.

Under normal circumstances how much should the average adult exercise every day?

Regular exercise is important for everyone. This is a well-known fact. Everybody knows it. But most people have trouble finding time or are confused about the type of exercise they should do.

It is recommended that adults accumulate at least 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week and children and youth accumulate at least 60 minutes per day.

Regular exercise strengthens your heart, lungs, bones and muscles. Gives you more energy and strength. Helps control your weight and blood pressure. All the things we always wanted in life… besides money!

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Surgeon General of the U.S. Promotes Healthy Walking

A beach in Albufeira, Portugal. Stay active, stay healthy! (Dr. Noorai Bharwani)
A beach in Albufeira, Portugal. Stay active, stay healthy! (Dr. Noorai Bharwani)

Regular walking has physical and mental benefits.

“If you seek creative ideas go walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk,” says writer Raymond I. Myers.

If you want to be healthy and stay healthy then take a walk, says U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy is an American physician, a vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the 19th Surgeon General of the United States. He knows what he is talking about.

Only half of adults and just over a quarter of high school students get the amount of physical activity recommended for good health. That is not good.

How much activity do we need to stay healthy?

It is recommended that adults get at least two and half-hours a week of moderately intense physical activity. Children should be active at least 60 minutes every day.

Why do we need to be physically active?

The reasons are pretty simple but very important. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and a list of other health problems – and can ease symptoms and improve quality of life for people already living with chronic diseases.

Murthy says your walking should be brisk enough that you can still talk but not sing. Walking should be brisk enough to get your heart rate up. To encourage walking we need to make our neighborhoods easier and safer for foot traffic. Walking is simple and affordable. Murthy encourages communities to create walkable neighborhoods. Make sidewalks safer for seniors.

November is senior’s falls prevention month. Studies have shown that walking is good for balance. A good balance does help prevent falls.

Walking is not always easy. Changing weather and flu season is a hindrance to establish consistent walking habit. Icy roads and sidewalks are dangerous. People find indoor areas like malls and indoor walking trails in places like YMCA very helpful.

You can walk leisurely 30 minutes a day for general health benefits. You can walk briskly to improve cardiovascular fitness by walking 30 minutes a day five days a week. If you are trying to lose weight then you need to walk briskly for 45 to 60 minutes a day five days a week. And make your dinner slimmer.

Scientific literature suggests that regular, brisk exercise of any kind can improve confidence, stamina, energy, weight control and life expectancy and reduce stress. It can also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and other health problems. And Friedrich Nietzsche, author of Twilight of the Idols says, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” What more can you ask for?

Now lets get cracking!

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Regular Physical Exercise Makes You Smart and Healthy

One step at a time. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
One step at a time. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Who wouldn’t like to be smart and healthy?

An article in the Scientific American Mind (July/August 2009), titled “Fit Body, Fit Mind?” says your workout makes you smarter and you stay sharp into old age.

“We are used to thinking of intelligence as largely a matter of genetic inheritance, but that is not the whole picture. What you do affects your mental wellbeing: staying physically and mentally active helps us stay sharp as we age,” says the article. Your brain and body – either use it or lose it.

A review of dozens of studies shows that maintaining a mental edge requires more. Other things you do – including participating in activities that make you think, getting regular exercise, staying socially engaged and even having a positive attitude – have a meaningful influence on how effective your cognitive functioning will be in old age, says the article.

Sometime ago, researchers from Denver presented their research at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. Their conclusion: being more physically fit means kids will do better in school. They found that this can be achieved by increasing school’s physical education program to 40 minutes a day, five days a week, from 40 minutes once a week. The performance improved by about 70 per cent. Amazing!

A healthy and smart child will one day become a parent and hopefully instill the same kind of healthy attitude to the future generations. A person can workout at school, at a public or private gym or at home.

To be smart and healthy one has to have enough sleep everyday. Sleep scientists say that we need one hour of sleep for every two we stay alert. This allows the brain to regenerate and repair itself. A student needs that to stay fresh and study more. A good night’s sleep also makes driving safe.

To be smart, a student has to study. Without studying you don’t get the grades. So how many hours should one study? That requires time management skills. We all have 168 hours in a week to use as we wish. Common sense says that more time you spend studying better your academic performance will be.

Most universities recommend that students study at least two hours outside of class for every hour spent in class, although some recommend even more.

Finally, boost your memory and brainpower with healthy food like fruits, vegetables and fish.

It is not difficult to be healthy, happy and smart. Mental and physical power depends on how much time and effort we put into it. Have fun.

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