Walking is the oldest, easiest and most accessible way to keep healthy. Period. So why do we still drive to the grocery store, to see our friends and to the gym (well, we used to)? I get that unless you live in a city or super close to a town, things are often spread out and it takes more time to walk places. But if everyone knew the truly amazing benefits of walking, would we replace driving? Maybe just a little bit?
The benefits of walking are too many to write about in one article. So, I’m focusing here on what happens to our bones and joints when we walk. The bottom line: a lot of really important things you can’t replicate in a gym.
Got aches and pains?
Walking makes a huge difference to people suffering from arthritis, otherwise known as inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting an estimated 27 million people in the US.
When you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage, which is the firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of bones in healthy joints and acts as a kind of "shock absorber" in the joint, becomes stiff and can wear away. This reduces its ability to absorb shock and friction, which, in the worst-case scenario, causes the cartilage to deteriorate to the point where bones rub against each other causing a lot of pain. But walking can help! Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC says “…walking may be all you need to build up knee cartilage” and the movement itself helps lubricate your joints, which decreases pain and stiffness, too.
Strengthens your legs.
I’ve seen unbelievable changes in the bodies of two friends who have taken up walking this spring. Their leg muscles are more defined and they look and feel much stronger. American College of Sports Medicine says walking can be an effective way to decrease fat levels, which in turn can make your legs appear leaner and more toned. And if you want to further strengthen your legs, try walking at a brisk pace, varying your pace or including hills in your walk – or all three! The occasional strength exercise on your walk (see picture) adds a challenge, too. I guarantee you’ll see a difference!
Are you high risk for osteoporosis- a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle?
According to Mayoclinic.com, your risk depends on “how much bone mass you attain by the time you reach age 30 and how rapidly you lose it after that.” Mayo Clinic recommends many ways to keep your bones healthy as you age and one of the most important is weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, and climbing stairs. What’s the right amount of walking? A study published in Pubmed concluded that for healthy postmenopausal women, walking approximately 1 mile each day (that’s approximately 2000 steps for those who like to keep track) will lead to higher whole-body bone density than women who walk shorter distances. Additionally, walking effectively slowed the rate of bone loss specifically in the legs. What’s not to be compelled about here?
I’m told that a good writer ends with a call to action. Here’s mine: take a walk – at least 45 minutes long- 7 of the next 10 days. See if you don’t feel a little better than you did when you first read this.
**If you email me here with your feedback and results, I’ll happily give you a free Pilates mat session which will give you exercises that support and complement your walking efforts. And tune in for the next article when I talk about benefits of walking to your cardiovascular system!