Food for Thought

Now that the weather is warming, it’s time to get moving. Walking is a great way to start improving your fitness because no membership is required, the financial investment is a pair or two of sneakers, you can do it almost anywhere and you don’t have to walk long periods of time to start seeing and feeling the benefits. You can even do it backwards, but more to come on that later.

What are the top eight reasons to walk?

1. Walking prevents type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program showed that walking 150 minutes per week and losing just 7 percent of your body weight can reduce your risk of diabetes by 58 percent.

2. Walking strengthens your heart if you’re male. In one study, mortality rates among retired men who walked less than one mile per day were nearly twice that among those who walked more than two miles per day.

3. Walking strengthens your heart if you’re female. Women in the Nurses’ Health Study (72,488 female nurses) who walked three hours or more per week reduced their risk of a heart attack or other coronary event by 35 percent compared with women who did not walk.

4. Walking is good for your brain. In a study on walking and cognitive function, researchers found that women who walked the equivalent of an easy pace at least 1.5 hours per week had significantly better cognitive function and less cognitive decline than women who walked less than 40 minutes per week.

5. Walking is good for your bones. Research shows that postmenopausal women who walk approximately one mile each day have higher whole-body bone density than women who walk shorter distances.

6. Walking helps alleviate symptoms of depression. Walking for 30 minutes three to five times per week, for 12 weeks, reduced symptoms of depression, as measured with a standard depression questionnaire by 47 percent.

7. Walking reduces the risk of breast and colon cancer. Women who performed the equivalent of one hour and 15 minutes to two and a half hours per week of brisk walking had an 18 percent decreased risk of breast cancer compared with inactive women. Many studies have shown that exercise can prevent colon cancer, and even if an individual person develops colon cancer, the benefits of exercise appear to continue both by increasing quality of life and reducing mortality.

8. Walking in short bouts improves fitness. A study of sedentary women showed that short bouts of brisk walking (three 10-minute walks per day) resulted in similar improvements in fitness and were at least as effective in decreasing body fatness as long bouts (one 30-minute walk per day).

Need another reason why walking can benefit your busy life? Keeping all your current eating habits, if you walked briskly for 15 minutes twice a day you would burn 1,120 calories a week which would be a little more than a pound of weight loss in one month.

If you already are an avid walker, have knee problems or injuries try walking backwards. That’s right, backwards. This technique is known as retro walking and has become quite the rage in Japan, China and parts of Europe.

It really is not a new fad, but originated in ancient China to build muscle, and promote balance. Because it puts less strain and requires less range of motion from your knee joints it is a good alternative for people with knee problems.

Also, because walking backwards eliminates the heel strike to the ground it can lead to changes in pelvic alignment that can help reduce pressure in your spine, relieving some types of back pain.

So make the time. Keep a pair of sneakers at the office, in the car and at home. Walk whenever you can. Introduce walking meetings at work, take the kids for a 15-minute walk every evening right after dinner, walk with friends instead of meeting for drinks or dessert, walk the dog, go to the river walk during lunch and eat as you walk, go forwards or backwards, just walk your way to improved health.