My goal each week is to walk a full hour per day for 5 days. I know that might sound simple to some, but don’t fool yourself: Walking for 60 minutes each day requires commitment. But the benefits you reap will change your life.
Walking is an aerobic exercise, which means your heartbeat is raised for a sustained period of time. You may have heard that 30 minutes, a few times per week, is sufficient to keep you healthy. But I disagree.
In fact, the reason those experts limit their recommendations to 30 minutes per few times a week is because they don’t think that people will have the discipline to walk for a full hour every day. But I have more faith in you.
Still, an hour per day can seem like a daunting task. I usually tell my patients to start with 20 minutes each day for two weeks, then advance to 40 minutes each day for another two weeks. After a month of warming up, they are ready to make the
commitment to walking a full hour every day. I believe that once people understand the biology behind walking an hour every day, and appreciate how it can improve their overall health — indeed, their lives — they will make the commitment.
Don’t Forget Your Second Wind — When you wake up in the morning, or whenever you start to walk, your body has a built-in reserve of energy that lasts for about 30 minutes. The key is to continue walking past that 30-minute mark and tap into the body’s collateral circulatory system.Do you remember when you were young, and as you kept running, you got that exhilarating “second wind” feeling? Well, that’s not all in your head. It’s actually your body adjusting once it has
gone through that built-in energy reserve. And the results are remarkable.
We’re all familiar with the body’s circulatory system, which consists of the vessels and muscles that control the blood flow throughout the body. The components of this system include the heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries. What you may not know is that your body also has what’s called a “collateral circulatory system,” a microscopic network of blood vessels that ordinarily remain closed. With sustained physical activity — such as a daily, hour-long walk — these vessels open and become enlarged, forming an alternate network to bring blood to your heart.
When these vessels open, it causes the “second wind” feeling of prolonged, aerobic exercise. In addition, this blood flow can detour around blockages and relieve angina (the chest pain that comes from heart disease) or even help to prevent a
heart attack. But that’s not all that one-hour walk does. As you continue beyond the 30-minute mark, your body pumps up its production of nitric oxide, a gas that is credited with many benefits, such as helping keep arteries clean of plaque, as well as widening the arteries and keeping them supple. Each of these actions helps lower blood pressure, decreasing the risk of both heart attack and stroke.
Study: Take 10,000 Steps — But wait, as TV pitchmen say, there’s more! As you continue to walk, your body goes through many beneficial processes, such as breaking down the fat in your liver and revving up your metabolism, which converts the sugar in your blood into energy more efficiently. With the invention of insulin, diabetes became a “manageable” disease. Yet diabetes not only hikes the risk of a heart attack steeply but also causes blindness and kidney failure, and is a major factor in amputations. Study after study shows that regular walking helps prevent diabetes (or manage your blood sugar better if you already have the disease). For instance, a study published in the January ’11 issue of the British Medical Journal found that people who walked 10,000 steps a day as a form of exercise had a sharply reduced risk for diabetes. And how long does it take to walk 10,000 steps a day? About one hour.
Research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting provided definitive evidence that staying fit keeps your heart young. It is well known that muscle mass diminishes with aging. But this study, which looked at people older than 65, found that the hearts of those who stayed the most active looked more youthful than even the hearts of people aged 24 to 35.In addition, the heart muscle in these study subjects was flexible. That meant that these older exercisers were less likely to develop diastolic heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump efficiently enough to keep up with the demands of the body.
Walking Is Just the Beginning — Why do I recommend walking instead of other activities? Over the years, I’ve kept track of my patients; I’ve watched tennis players develop shoulder problems, and runners cope with bad knees and hips. But
when you walk, you can get all the benefits of aerobic exercise without putting undue strain on your joints. Want to add variety to your exercise plan? Swimming is great, of course, but even if you don’t swim, don’t overlook the water. Check with health clubs or local pools for water aerobics classes.
When I get home from work, I make sure to add an additional activity period to the day as well. So, after dinner, this means I hop on my stationary bike, or perhaps I take a swim, or even take another walk. The idea is to keep moving.
Before you start any physical activity program, consult your physician first. Most people can manage a short walk and build up from there, unless they have serious health problems. But it’s always best to be safe.