Fri | Aug 12, 2022

Walking to improve mental health and diabetes

Published:Wednesday | June 29, 2022 | 12:06 AM
A man and woman walk for exercise.
A man and woman walk for exercise.
A woman walks briskly.
A woman walks briskly.
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Walking may be one of the most powerful natural remedies available. It can help lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and even keep your memory sharp.

Walking is one of the more popular forms of exercise worldwide. It does not require expensive equipment or special skills, and it provides a wide range of health benefits. Whether you choose an outdoor solitary path in nature, a busy route on city sidewalks, a treadmill workout, or a few rounds around your office building, walking is a relatively accessible way to stay active.

Walking is a type of cardiovascular physical activity, which increases your heart rate. This improves blood flow and can lower blood pressure. It helps to boost energy levels by releasing certain hormones like endorphins and delivering oxygen throughout the body. Brisk walking is considered a moderate-intensity, low-impact workout that does not exert excess strain on joints (hip, knee, ankles) that are susceptible to injury with higher-impact workouts.

People may think that walking is not as effective as higher-impact workouts. Yet, a large cohort study of runners and walkers found that after six years of follow-up, when expending an equal amount of energy, moderate-intensity offered similar benefits as higher-intensity running in reducing the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. The faster the walking pace, the greater the risk reduction observed.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults with chronic conditions do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity weekly, if able.

BENEFITS

Walking is an exercise that meets this aerobic component and is associated with improving high blood pressure and body mass index, and lowering the risk of diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease, and early death. Walking speed, duration, and frequency can be adjusted depending on one’s starting fitness level, so almost everyone can participate in walking for exercise.

For persons with diabetes, physical activity affects various metabolic responses that control blood glucose. Exercise immediately uses glucose for energy and improves the body’s response to insulin. It can prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes and improve insulin sensitivity in those with type 1 diabetes.

Exercise activates the muscles, which has receptors for insulin to promote the storage of glucose in muscle tissue both during and after exercise, thereby lowering the amount of glucose in the blood. To achieve greater improvements in blood glucose control, longer durations of walking as well as higher-intensity brisk walking or walking upstairs are more effective than a casual stroll.

However, even interrupting long periods of sitting with three to five minutes of light walking every 30 minutes can improve blood glucose control in overweight and obese individuals. Spacing out exercise sessions throughout the week, rather than exercising for longer durations only one to two days per week, appears to most benefit insulin sensitivity.

The American Diabetes Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes weekly of aerobic exercise of moderate-to-vigorous exercise like brisk walking, spread over at least three days per week with no more than two consecutive days without activity.

Further improvements in diabetes control are seen when adding two to three sessions weekly of resistance (strength) exercises on non-consecutive days, using elastic resistance bands, free weights, weight machines, or body weight exercises.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com

SOURCE: American Diabetes Associations