Coronary heart disease, stroke, and depression risk lowered by regular outdoor walking: Study

By: Bel Marra Health | Exercise | Sunday, May 22, 2016 - 09:30 AM

regular outdoor walking lowers risk of heart disease stroke depressionA new study has found that regular group walking may reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease, among other potentially life-threatening conditions. It also reduces your risk of depression.

A research team at the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the U.K. says their findings show that health professionals and local authorities should recommend walking groups in their local areas to encourage physical activity in the general public. Anything that can start at a grassroots level – especially something that is free, simple to do, and open to everybody – is a sound initiative for the health of our communities.

Just this week, I was reading about people who give back in a big way to their community. One person, fitness instructor Denise Warren, really struck a chord. She runs fitness classes at a community center in Queens, New York, and has founded C.H.O.S.E.N. (Childhood Obesity Shall End Now). It’s a free program for kids in the community to get active in a fun group setting, learn about becoming physically fit, and, in turn, build confidence and social skills. Amazing! Community-based outreach programs like these are key to changing lives for the better.

Social walking leads to more good habits

Exercise, movement, keeping limber – your health depends on it. Researchers from UEA determined that regular group walking can be a catalyst for adopting other health behaviors, so the spinoff for general wellness has incredible potential.

For their analysis, the researchers looked at 42 studies with data from 1,843 participants in more than 14 countries. Some of these participants had health problems, like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, or Parkinson’s disease.

Some of the participants joined regular walking groups that walked outdoors for less than one hour each time. The researchers then assessed the effects the group walking had on their health.

It’s impressive. The walking group participants experienced significant reductions in blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cholesterol, not to mention body fat and body mass index (BMI). All these factors play into your risk for heart disease and stroke. They also showed improved lung power, general fitness, and lower levels of depression.

Regular activity you keep coming back for

Another important outcome? About 75 percent of the participants stuck with the regular group walking, proving that social exercise has that stay-with-it appeal. You can’t let your walking buddies down, right? And you benefit!

As for group walking, I’m all for it. Walking for seniors is a great place to start if they’re new to regular exercise. They don’t have to join a gym or buy special equipment beyond having shoes with proper fit and support. It’s not intimidating for them, and walking is one of the best exercises you can do.

Having someone to walk with is even better. It’s encouraging and keeps you accountable, especially in the short, dark days in the dead of winter, which can be less than motivating. No wonder people like to hibernate indoors and watch TV.

Exercise and training is hardly a chore when you talk your way through it with a good friend.

And the health benefits of walking are well documented. A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggested that hourly five-minute walks may reverse arterial damage caused by sitting for long periods.

Lead researcher Saurabh Thosar said, “There is plenty of epidemiological evidence linking sitting time to various chronic diseases and linking breaking sitting time to beneficial cardiovascular effects, but there is very little experimental evidence. We have shown that prolonged sitting impairs endothelial function, which is an early marker of cardiovascular disease, and that breaking sitting time prevents the decline in that function.”

The researchers showed that through a three-hour period, the expansion of arteries that normally allows for blood flow was reduced by 50 percent within one hour of sitting. The participants of the study walked for five minutes each hour, and arterial function did not deteriorate in the three hours.

Thosar concluded, “American adults sit for approximately eight hours a day. The impairment in endothelial function is significant after just one hour of sitting. It is interesting to see that light physical activity can help in preventing this impairment.”

Lack of exercise linked to twice as many deaths as obesity

Another study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 20 minutes of brisk walking a day could reduce your risk of premature death. The same study also revealed that inactivity puts you at twice the risk of premature death as obesity.

Part and parcel of the health benefits that come with regular activity is developing a positive attitude toward exercise. With group walking, you start to see it as something that can be enjoyed with others and make you feel great. That’s what you need to make exercise a healthy habit. It’s a mindset to get you committed to lacing up those walking shoes.

Researchers say the next step is to find the best way to set up walking groups for people who would benefit the most from increasing their activity. Those community-based solutions can bring about a lot of good.

So why not call up your friends and talk to your neighbors? Starting a walking group could be your next step to doing something really wonderful for yourself and your health.

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