While any physical activity is good, only frequent exercise brings lasting results. The results you gain from an activity will fade dramatically after two weeks, and completely disappear after two to eight months if that activity is not continued.2
Doctors say that people who walk regularly can often attain better
long-term health and suffer fewer injuries than someone who exercises
more vigorously because walking has minimal impact on your bones and
A guide from the National Institute on Aging, Chapter 3, http://weboflife.ksc.nasa.gov/exerciseandaging/home.html
The long-term health benefits from walking include:
- Lower blood pressure. Exercise causes blood vessels to dilate, which reduces the pressure on blood vessel walls. Decreased pressure lowers the chance of a blood vessel rupturing in the brain, thus lowering the risk for a stroke.
- Lower cholesterol. Exercise lowers your cholesterol level, which decreases the risk to your heart.
- Strengthened heart and cardiovascular system. The elevated heart rate you get from walking will help lower your heart rate when you rest. A strengthened heart and cardiovascular system also lowers the risk of coronary disease and heart attack.
- Increased bone density. As density increases,
the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures decreases. Weight
bearing exercise, such as walking, is especially important
for women battling osteoporosis.
- Production of growth hormones that counteract the
effects of aging. As you grow older, your body stops
producing hormones that help keep muscles strong. Therefore,
regular exercise is the only natural way to get the body to
continue to produce these hormones.
- Increased production of endorphins (en-dor-fins)
improves mental and physical health. Endorphins are the body's natural way to decrease stress, helping you to relax. Forty minutes of walking three to four times a week can reduce depression and anxiety. As a result of endorphin release, people often find they feel better and sleep more soundly.
- Weight loss or weight maintenance. Studies have shown that walking regularly can help you lose weight, and keep unwanted pounds from returning. Depending on your pace, a one-mile walk burns approximately 100 calories for a person of average weight, and perhaps more for a heavier person (up to 300 calories per hour).
- Strengthened nervous system and reflexes. When your body moves, the brain sends "messages" to your muscles that tell the muscle how to work. Those messages must be passed frequently so that the nervous system continues to function, improving your reflexes.
- Increased flexibility. Walking and stretching increase overall flexibility and make daily activities, such as climbing stairs, walking across the street, and driving a car, easier and safer. Flexibility will help you maintain physical independence and may even help you extend the number of years you will be able to drive.
- Balanced insulin production. For diabetics, exercise increases
the production of insulin, which helps combat the high
blood sugar of diabetes. For non-diabetics, exercise may also
prevent the onset of diabetes.
Do You Have Stiff Joints and Muscles?
Stiffness might make it harder to check for traffic as you walk.
TIP: Turn your whole body, not just your neck, when scanning for traffic. As your flexibility increases, so will your ability to be safe.
Many older adults who walk regularly believe that exercise has
reshaped their lives. A fifty-nine year old woman, who is a
cancer survivor, said it best: "Walking gives me the energy and
stamina that I need to go out and actualize my dreams. I recently
started teaching high school and completed a walking
trip in Italy. It's just plain easier for me to move my arthritic
body out of bed in the morning when I am in shape. I miss
how I feel if I go a week without walking."