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Five Surprising Health Benefits of Walking Regularly

photo of mother and son on a nature walk with the blog title

The next time you see your doctor, don’t be surprised if they hand you a prescription to walk. This simple activity that you’ve been your whole life is now being described as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” by Dr. Thomas Frieden, who is the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Of course, you probably know that any physical activity, including walking, is good for your overall health. However, walking, in particular, comes with a host of benefits. Here’s a list of five that you may not know. 

  1. It counteracts the effects of obesity-promoting genes. Researchers at Harvard looked at more than thirty weight-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to understand how much of an impact these genes actually have on body weight. The researchers found that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those genes were cut in half.
  2. It helps tame a sweet tooth. The latest studies verify that walking can reduce intake and cravings of a variety of sweets. A couple of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations.
  3. It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers already know that physical activity of any kind reduces the risk of breast cancer. However, an American Cancer Society study 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. Walking provided this protection even for women with additional breast cancer risk factors, such as using supplemental hormones or being overweight.
  4. It eases joint pain. Numerous studies have found that walking five to six miles a week can prevent arthritis from forming and for patients that already have arthritis walking reduces their arthritis-related pain. This is because walking protects the joints, particularly the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis, by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
  5. It boosts immune function. Walking can help protect you during the cold and flu season. A study with over 1,000 participants found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day for five days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised less than twice a week. Additionally, if the walkers did get sick, their symptoms were milder and lasted for a shorter duration.


How to Improve your Walking Technique

Most people think walking is simply putting one foot in front of the other. However, a little technique can make your walks more effective and enjoyable. The technique is especially important if you are hoping to lose weight because it will enable you to walk at a quicker pace for a longer duration. Posture is also extremely important, this is because when you’re standing tall, your muscles move through a greater range of motion for a more powerful stride. Improving your walking posture will also help alleviate muscle pain and allow you to take deep breaths for more energy.

The following rules will help you maintain good posture:

Stand tall. Many people hunch their backs when they are on walks. This posture makes it more difficult for you to breathe and can contribute to back pain. When walking, extend your spine as if you were being lifted from the crown of your head. Place your thumbs on your lower ribs and your fingertips on your hips. Try to maintain this posture as you walk.

Eyes up. If you’re looking down at your feet, you’re putting unnecessary stress on your upper back and neck. Try to look straight ahead by looking forward to about 10-20 feet in front of you. You’ll still be able to prepare for obstacles ahead while also preventing tension in your upper body.

Shoulders back, down, and relaxed. Roll your shoulders up, back, and then down. This is where your shoulders should be as you walk—not pulled up toward your ears. Try to keep your shoulders away from your ears to reduce upper-body tension and allow for an organic arm swing.

Swing from your shoulders. Let your arms swing freely from your shoulders, not your elbows. Swing your arms forward and back, like a pendulum. However, don’t bring them across your body or let them go higher than your chest.

Maintain a neutral pelvis. Tighten your abs, and make sure you don’t tuck your tailbone under or stick your belly out because this will overarch your back.

Step lightly. Instead of landing flat-footed, try to roll from heel to toe as you walk. Be sure to avoid reaching your leg far out in front of you. This increases the impact on your joints and actually slows you down. You want a simple, smooth stride in order to reduce your risk of injuring yourself.

Follow our blog for more health tips from Dr. Davis, a leading women’s health specialist in Chico, California.

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