In the 1990s, many experts believed that the only activity that could improve physical fitness was very strenuous, aerobic exercise. But in the years since then, extensive research has shown that less-vigorous activity, such as walking, can lead to significant improvements in overall health -- as long as it's performed almost daily.
According to the American Heart Association, walking can ...
- Cut blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Shrink cholesterol levels
- Lower obesity risk
- Lower type 2 diabetes risk
- Reduce osteoporosis risk
- Reduce breast and colon cancer risk
- Improve mental and emotional health.
Because it's gentle on the body, walking may be especially helpful for those who haven't been active in the past. In a study of men ages 71 to 93, those who walked at least 1.5 miles a day cut their risk of heart disease in half compared with men who walked less often or shorter distances. Following general fitness recommendations, the men walked 30 minutes or more at least five days a week.
How to begin? First, check with your doctor to make sure you have a clean bill of health. Then set out. Walking doesn't require special equipment, but you should wear a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes. If a half hour each day is too much at first, begin more slowly, working your way up to longer sessions. Consider bringing a friend to make the walk more enjoyable and improve your chances of sticking with it.
Here's more on how much exercise is really necessary.
"Exercise and Fitness." americanheart.org. 21 Jul. 2008. American Heart Association. 27 Oct. 2008. <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200013>.
Hakim, Amy A., et al. "Effects of Walking on Coronary Heart Disease in Elderly <en: The Honolulu Heart Program." Circulation 100:1(1999): 9-13. 27 Oct. 2008. <http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/100/1/9>.
Haskell, William L., et al. "Physical Activity and Public Health: Updated Recommendation for Adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association." Circulation 116(2007): 1081-93. 27 Oct. 2008. <http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.185649>.
Nelson, Miriam E., et al. "Physical Activity and Public Health in Older Adults: Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association." Circulation 116(2007): 1094-105. 27 Oct. 2008. <http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.185650>.