In this era of hot yoga and extreme sports, we miss the opportunity to enjoy the low risks and high benefits of a startlingly simple, natural exercise: Walking.
Perhaps this is because walking suffers from poor marketing, as it clearly delivers when it comes to providing health benefits without unnecessary exposure to injuries.
With this in mind, today we celebrate National Walk@Lunch Day, a yearly event that Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies across the country organize in their local communities. More important than any one event, it’s an opportunity to get outside and step into a healthy routine.
Walking is one of the simplest, least expensive and most effective things you can do for your health. Just getting 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as a brisk walk, at least five times a week has been shown to produce significant benefits. It strengthens bones, tunes up the cardiovascular system and psychologically can clear a cluttered mind.
Unfortunately most Americans, whether too reliant on cars or unable to find time, have not taken this easy step to improve their health. Less than a quarter of adults reported walking or bicycling for transportation for more than 10 minutes continuously in a typical week, according to a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Yet walking briskly has been shown to provide similar health benefits as running does when it comes to reducing the risk of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, according to findings reported in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
Researchers have demonstrated that walking may also serve to forecast how we will age. After age 65, how fast we walk may predict how long we have to live. The researchers calculated that people who walk at a rate of one meter per second or faster lived longer than would be expected given their age or gender.
Inactivity is one of the key contributors to the discouraging national statistics on obesity. Nearly 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese, and obesity-related conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable death. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. is $147 billion. Medical spending on an obese person is estimated to be $1,429 higher than it is for a person of normal weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the toll on families and communities can’t be measured.
So today let’s take an easy step to fight the obesity epidemic by celebrating National Walk@Lunch Day and support this retro-cool, low-risk, naturally-suited exercise that simply delivers without much fanfare.
Trent Haywood, M.D., J.D., is Chief Medical Officer for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), a national federation of 37 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.