(Health Secrets) Walking is a simple pleasure that many people use to stay fit or boost their mood without considering just how much benefit they might actually be getting from the activity. In addition to combating depression, burning calories, and maintaining bone density, regular walking could significantly lower your chances of dying from both the first and second leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease and cancer. Heart disease claims the lives of around 600,000 people in the US annually, accounting for one in four deaths. Cancer kills nearly as many, taking about 575,000 people.
Although walking might not directly protect you from all types of cancer, studies show that the activity can decrease the chances of men and women developing some deadly cancers. Research also supports the benefits of walking for heart health.
Walking and Heart Disease
A systematic review of 21 studies published in the Obesity Reviews journal in March 2009 compared the results of walking on cardiovascular disease. Participants included men and women of many ages and used a wide variety of exercise intensities and distances. The review found that walking decreases risks of heart disease, especially when performed for longer amounts of times or for greater distances. Moderate walking at a brisk pace is more effective than slow walking, but the overall protective effects of walking for cardiovascular disease declined in cases of vigorous intensity exercising. The review also noted that walking has a positive effect on insulin sensitivity and weight management, thereby addressing risk factors such as obesity.
A Harvard study in 1999 showed that women who engaged in moderate intensity walking for three hours a week were 40 percent less likely to develop heart disease. Three hours a week can be achieved by walking 30 minutes per day, six days a week. Studies show that men can get similar results.
An interesting finding came in a 2005 study published in Diabetes Care, which showed that walking 30 minutes daily lowered risks of dying from cardiovascular disease even in people who were not able to lose weight, lower high blood pressure, or decrease their cholesterol levels.
Many studies have confirmed that moderate exercise prevents heart disease. When walking, this generally means using a pace of 3 to 4 mph. However, if walking uphill or on uneven terrain – such as sand or a hiking trail – a moderate intensity might be reached at a slower pace. Whatever the terrain, brisk walking for around 30 to 60 minutes on five or more days each week could lower heart disease risk by 40 percent.
Walking and Cancer
Research shows that women can decrease their risks of breast cancer and men can lower their risks of prostate cancer with regular physical activity. A study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in October 2013 showed that walking changed how women’s bodies dealt with estrogen. The large study found that women who walked for seven hours minimum each week had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who walked three hours or less. Most of the participants said that they walked at a brisk pace. Yet the women who engaged in vigorous walking for up to 10 hours weekly lowered their risks by 25 percent more than the women who walked less.
Researchers concluded that walking was beneficial for the prevention of breast cancer, even if women lost weight or took hormone replacement therapy.
An earlier study published in the same journal in May 2013 found that walking altered the ratio of estrogen metabolites in women’s bodies in a way that indicates a lower risk of developing breast cancer. It was determined that walking positively modifies women’s internal makeup, making it more difficult for breast cancer to develop.
Men who exercise consistently could also lower their chances of dying from cancer, especially prostate cancer. According to doctors Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, men who walk briskly or engage in comparative exercise have a better chance of getting clean biopsies. Also, men who do develop prostate cancer are at a lower risk of getting an aggressive form if they are performing moderate exercise.
A large study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco discovered a connection between walking at a brisk pace of 3 mph or faster and decreased risks of prostate cancer progression. Men who did a minimum of three hours of walking per week post cancer diagnosis were almost 60 percent less likely to require another round of treatment or see the biochemical markers that indicate a recurrence of the disease.
It seems that simply walking 30 minutes per day at a moderate to vigorous intensity could help you stay healthy or at least stay alive if facing an existing diagnosis.
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