Top 3 Benefits of Walking for Exercise

They say that there’s nothing that a good walk can’t fix. And when it comes to exercise, that may not be too far from the truth.

It’s the oldest form of exercise and an easy and effective way to improve overall health. Check out Exercise Right’s top 3 benefits of walking for exercise that you may not know about.

1.    Improves Postural Control and reduces the risk of falls

An inability to control rapid movement of the head or trunk increases the possibility for falls, particularly in the elderly. With age there is often deterioration in the speed at which visual and neuromuscular signals are sent to the brain, both of which play a crucial role in postural control.

Zhang and Deshpande (2015) investigated a protocol of narrow gait walking with 15 young and 15 elderly participants. They found that of the 12 older participants who were exercising five times per week, their visual input and ability to control head and trunk stability was only marginally declined, compared with inactive individuals.

There is an age-related decline that occurs in the brainstem, responsible for this motor control behaviour. The importance of visual and sensory interaction for preservation of head and trunk stability during movement can be improved with regular walking. It forms a strategic approach to the prevention of falls. Some people end up getting so wrapped up in their work life that they forget to take a break and do some exercise, this can effect people in life making tasks as simple as climbing stairs a real challenge.

2.    Prevents and Improves Neck and Lower Back Pain

The construction of a modern working world has led to the development of a predominately sedentary lifestyle among many office workers.  A decline in physical activity among many professionals, often as a result of poor posture, is leading to chronic neck and lower back pain.

Sitthipornvorakul, Janwantanakul & Lohsoonthorn (2015) looked at the impact of total daily steps on the incidence of neck and lower back pain in people with sedentary jobs. They found that there is a reduction in muscle condition that occurs as a result of sitting at a computer desk for long periods. This was directly correlated to the onset of neck and lower back pain in many individuals.

Participants initially averaged just 8,000 steps per day, however increasing their total daily steps by just 1000 had a positive effect on reduction in neck pain. Long periods of time spent seated place undue stress on body parts, increase muscle fatigue and can result in a reduction in capacity over time. This can lead to the development of many musculoskeletal disorders.

Increasing daily steps and allowing for sufficient rest breaks will improve neck and LBP conditions.

3.    Improves the body’s insulin and glucose responses

The prevalence of many metabolic conditions is on the increase, particularly with rates of children and young adults developing Type 2 diabetes.

Even moderate intensity exercise such as walking has the ability to elicit a powerful response to insulin sensitivity due to the carbohydrate deficit created through exercise (Heden et al., 2015).

Heden et al (2015) showed how even low intensity activity has the ability to reduce post-meal insulin secretion in overweight individuals. Combining moderate intensity exercise with a reduced glucose diet has an even more powerful effect in the prevention of Type 2 diabetes.

Woolf-May et al (2011) investigated a walking protocol of 30min in no less than 10min bouts on 5 days of the week at a moderate intensity or brisk pace. They found significant differences in weight circumference, along with Improvements in insulin levels directly correlated to a reduction in body mass.

Woolf-May et al (2011) also concluded that in men who were at risk of developing insulin resistance and type II diabetes, they were able to significantly decrease this risk by increasing their weekly activity levels by 1-2 hours each week.

Regular brisk walking has also shown to bring about positive changes in insulin sensitivity. The adaptations that occur through exercise, such as skeletal muscle adaptations and a reduction in fat mass, can help regulate insulin and stop the onset of many metabolic conditions.

So when you think about walking, remember this:

  1. Walking for older individuals helps prevent the age related decline in vision and motor control ability, something important for prevention of falls.
  1. Increasing your daily physical activity by just 1,000 steps noticeably improves pain in those with neck and back pain conditions.
  1. It is the consistency that is important when it comes to walking for exercise. The more sessions you do per week, the more improvements you will see in regulating the insulin response.

To find out how exercise can improve your quality of life, talk to an accredited exercise professional.

Megan McMinn is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and avid lover of all things Health and Science.

Exercise Right Blog