Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
“Regular physical activity is probably as close to a magic bullet as we will come in modern medicine,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the United States.
Running, as a form of exercise, has been popular since the 1970s. Intensity has been cited as the great advantage of running. As such, it promotes fitness quickly and efficiently and burns more calories than other forms of exercise. So much so that running is widespread among those who want to control their weight.
Because of its intensity, running releases endorphins in many people, creating the runner’s high that some describe as an “energy buzz.” But running is not for everyone. “Running has some potentially serious disadvantages that you should consider before choosing to do it on a regular basis,” advises Dr. Andrew Weil on his website, drweil.com.
In fact, most health experts go for walking rather than running. Writing for an American weekly magazine, Christine Gorman states: “Walking may be the perfect exercise. It’s one of the safest things you can do with your body. It’s much easier on the knees than running and doesn’t trigger untoward side effects.”
Next time you visit your doctor, don’t be surprised if he hands you a prescription to walk. After all, to quote the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, walking is “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”
According to the Harvard Medical School (HMS), the difference between running and walking is not based on pace. “At any speed, walkers have one foot on the ground at all times, but runners are entirely airborne during some part of every stride,” it explains. “As the pace increases, the percentage of each stride that is airborne increases; competitive runners have ‘hang times’ of about 45%.”
What goes up must come down, so goes a popular saying. HMS considers running as “a high-impact activity.” “Each time they land, runners subject their bodies to a stress equal to about three times their body weight,” it says. “In just one mile, a typical runner’s legs will have to absorb more than 100 tons of impact force. It’s a testament to the force of gravity that walkers have a much lower (1% to 5%) risk of exercise-related injuries than runners.”
American television host Oprah Winfrey (who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in The Color Purple) once said: “I’ve been through every diet under the sun, and I can tell you that getting up, getting out, and walking is always the first goal.”
Like Winfrey, I like walking. When I was in New York City a couple of years ago, I explored Manhattan by walking. I just walked from the hotel where I was staying to Central Park, to Times Square, and the United Nations headquarters. I also did the same trick when I was in Melbourne, Australia. Instead of riding a taxi, I walked from the hotel where I stayed at the conference venue, about five blocks away.
Here, in the Philippines, I work at an office that requires me to sit for eight hours – save only for those few minutes when I walk to the canteen or unwind myself. So much so that I don’t ride from my house going to the bus terminal, which is about 600 meters. Most of my friends are wondering why I never ride (except when it is raining!). I tell them I am saving money. However, the truth is walking is my form of exercise.
Here are more health benefits you get from walking:
Stroke. Walking also decreases the risk of a stroke. In an analysis of the health habits of 72,488 nurses over the past 14 years in the United States, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health recently found that those who walked six or more hours per week decreased by 40 percent their risk of suffering strokes caused by a clot.
Low blood pressure. In one study of older people with low blood pressure after meals, walking afterward restored their blood pressure to normal. “These findings support an old German proverb – ‘After meals, you should rest or walk a thousand steps,'” says Dr. Lewis A. Lipsitz, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Diabetes. If you have diabetes, doctors recommend exercise. “The best exercise for people with diabetes is brisk walking,” says Dr. Henry Dolger, former chief of the Diabetes Department of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “It’s by far the safest, least stressful, and most productive of all exercises.”
Varicose veins. Prolonged sitting or standing can cause problems in your legs because the blood tends to pool. A little bit of exercise throughout the day, particularly walking, can often prevent this pooling, according to Dr. Eugene Strandness, a professor of surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine. In fact, a recent study found that sedentary adults were more likely to have varicose veins than those who were active.
On its website, the Harvard Medical School also provides these “five surprising benefits of walking”:
Walking counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes. Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes actually contribute to body weight. They then discovered that those genes’ effects were cut in half among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day.
Walking helps tame a sweet tooth. A pair of students from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb chocolate cravings and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations. And the latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks.
Walking reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. An American Cancer Society study that zeroed in on walking found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. And walking provided this protection even for women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.
Walking eases joint pain. Arthritis-related pain can be reduced by walking, according to several studies. In fact, walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints – especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis – by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
Walking boosts immune function. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.
Unknown to many, American president Harry S Truman took to walking briskly until the ripe old age of 88. Astronaut John Glenn credited his celebrated return to orbit at age 77 to his two-mile daily power walk. Famous author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau admitted he couldn’t have preserved his health and spirit without walking at least four hours through the woods or fields every day.
Walking has it all. Simple and natural, it doesn’t require any instruction or skill. All things considered, Charles Dickens got it right: “Walk to be healthy, walk to be happy.”