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Walking does more than just burn calories

Arlette Perry, a professor of kinesiology and sport sciences at the University of Miami, explains why this simple physical activity goes beyond helping with weight control.

Experts say that walking is the best exercise available, yet one of the most underrated. We know that walking can help with weight management and heart health. But many don’t know that it also can ease joint pain, boost the immune functions of the body, and even reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in women, according to medical experts.

Studies have also shown that walking at a continuous pace for at least 35 minutes, three times a week, combined with a Mediterranean diet, improved the scores on thinking tests of subjects who had cognitive deficiencies.

Other studies show that walking can help manage stress and improve mood by releasing endorphins, chemicals produced by the body that can create a feeling of well-being.

Arlette Perry, professor of kinesiology and sport sciences at the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development, said that walking is a great exercise.

“I would say to everyone, ‘Get a dog and walk that dog as much as you can,’ ” she said. “Walking is a great way to exercise.”

Perry said that walking is a safe, less impactful kind of exercise that puts less strain on joints. Jogging or running puts more stress on the knees, ankles, and other bodily joints, while most people of all ages can enjoy walking.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults perform moderate-intensity aerobic exercise such as a brisk walk a minimum of 30 minutes, five days per week (or a total of 150 minutes) to reduce the risk of disease later in life.

However, Perry said that successful weight losers who shed a minimum of 30 pounds and kept it off for more than one year, generally exercised five days per week for 60 minutes per day. That translates to 300 minutes a week, twice the recommended rate.

The benefits of walking are many but the most basic one is that calorie expenditure is “distance” dependent. In other words, the more steps or miles taken, the more calories burned. Perry said that this is because the body is breaking down triglycerides (fats) for energy. The fat is broken down to free fatty acids that flood into your circulation and to alleviate hunger. “The hunger eventually returns, but right after you exercise you will not feel very hungry,” said Perry.

She recommends walking at a “comfortable pace” and points out that the comfort level will be different for everyone.

“As opposed to distance covered, the higher the intensity of your workout, the greater the impact on your cardiovascular endurance or aerobic fitness,” Perry said. A higher intensity can be achieved when walking on a treadmill by adjusting the incline to provide more resistance, similar to walking up a hill. The same can be done by increasing the resistance on a stationary bicycle ergometer to simulate pedaling up a hill.”

She also offered other tips:

  • Make sure to drink plenty of water before you start to walk, no matter how short the distance.
  • Carry a bottle of water with you on the walk. Hydration is the most important thing to do while exercising, especially during the hot, humid summer months.
  • Keep an eye on the heat index. If it is high, as is often the case in South Florida, walk in the shade to avoid the direct rays of the sun.
  • Use a hat or visor, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect your eyes and face.
  • Enjoy your surroundings. Look at the birds, trees, and different houses to help boost your spirit.