Anti-Aging : Walk Your Way to Better Health

Rich Suwanski

Walking seems almost too easy, too effortless, to be healthful, but research continues to support its benefits.

For example, women who walk at least three hours every week -- or about 30 minutes per day -- are less likely to suffer a stroke than women who walk less, or not at all, according to new research from Spain.

The Journal of Clinical Oncology said that women who walk regularly after being diagnosed with breast cancer have a 45 percent greater chance of survival than those who are inactive.

A recent British study linked brisk walking to a significant risk reduction for developing type 2 diabetes in people with a family history of diabetes.

The National Walkers' Health Study found that those who took the longest weekly walks were more likely to use less medication.

And Italian researchers found that people suffering from memory problems had a 27 percent lower risk of developing dementia if they walked briskly over a four-year period, the theory being that physical activity increased blood flow to the brain.

Not everyone likes running, biking, swimming, hiking or other more rigorous physical activities, but walking is low-impact and can be done at a comfortable pace.

"Almost anybody can walk if you have a good pair of legs and non-arthritic joints," said Owensboro physician Dr. Dirck Curry. "It's a good cardiovascular workout that helps with the circulatory system and with your metabolism. It burns calories and gives the individual a 'pumped up' feeling because it increases endorphins, a chemical in the body that helps elevate a person's mood."

Exercise also helps a person sleep better, reduce cholesterol and lose weight, provided more calories are burned than food ingested.

"Walking is not only for women, but for men, too," Curry said. "Thirty minutes a day, six days a week will enhance human wellness."

Terry Wigton, 66, decided to lose weight after tipping the scales at 293 and experiencing heart problems. He lost almost 70 pounds after changing his lifestyle and walking about three miles a day. Now, he and a couple of friends walk about two to 2 1/2 miles a day.

"We walk for about 45 minutes and then drink coffee for 45 minutes," Wigton said. "We don't walk quite as fast as we used to.

"But it helps your heart, and it doesn't hurt your knees. I have five friends with knee surgery, and I don't want to go through that."

Wigton's group starts the day with a 7 a.m. walk to get them going.

"It gives me something to do every day so I don't lay around in bed all the time," the retired teacher said, "and then there's the socialization aspect. It's nice to do things with people who have the same interests."

Shirley Brown, 78, became a serious walker after retiring from Lincoln Federal in 1999. She didn't have any medical issues but found walking "very peaceful to the body, mind and spirit."

"It's great exercise and very energizing," she said. "I love to do it."

She walks about two miles a day, then stretches and does a light workout on exercise machines at the Owensboro Medical Health System HealthPark. Brown also walks with friends and said "socializing is as important as exercising.

"We talk about health, issues in Owensboro or things going on in the country in general," she said. "If one of us doesn't show up to walk for a day or two, we call to check on them.

"It's wonderful to have those kinds of friends."

Brown said walking also allows her to clear her head and plan her day.

"And it's good prayer time," she said. "I'm blessed to be in good health."

Don Galluci, an exercise physiologist at the HealthPark, said studies show that walking "correlates directly to longevity.

"Even 30 minutes a day will show overall health improvement," he said. "But some people quit exercising because they put that time on top of an already full schedule. You have to make exercise a priority and eliminate something else from your schedule."

Galluci said access to city and county parks makes exercise pleasurable in natural surroundings, although walking outdoors during the winter requires a clothing adjustment.

"Whenever you walk outside, dress as if the temperature is 15 degrees warmer because you're going to heat up as you walk," he said.

Galluci said walking is also good for mental and emotional health with a minimal time investment.

"One week is 168 hours, and if you walk three hours a week, that's just 2 percent of your overall time," he said. "Two percent isn't much to improve your health."

Rich Suwanski, 691-7315, or rsuwanski@messenger-inquirer.com

(c)2013 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)

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