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A ‘wonder drug’ that’s FREE

By on July 29, 2019 in Columnist with 1 Comment
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

Recently I read an article extolling the medical benefits of walking. The Harvard author equated the benefits to that of a “wonder drug.” 

I know I have promoted the health benefits of regular exercise, eating right, avoiding or stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol and losing weight. From our health standpoint, it is very important to spend less time on the couch and on our addicting devices.

It is not easy for someone who has done little exercising in any form to suddenly decide, “Hey, I’m going to start exercising.” Life-long habits are hard to break, and healthy habits seem difficult to start. 

Walking is one of the most accessible, easiest and readily available exercises to all of us. We don’t need any special equipment or training to walk. 

I find walking or running on a treadmill relatively boring, and I guess that’s why treadmills in fitness centers all come with a television to relieve the boredom. I find that walking out-of-doors is more invigorating, interesting and connects me to the beauty of nature surrounding me. 

As we age, it is more important than ever to attempt to be physically active, and there is no safer, cheaper, more invigorating activity than walking on a regular basis whether it be done alone, with a dog, or with friends.

Several studies have shown walking five to six hours per week reduces arthritis pain as well as decreases arthritis from forming on our hips and knees.

So what are the health benefits of regular walking? 

Walking has been shown to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, keep one’s weight down, boost our immune system and improve memory. In addition, it has been attributed to reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. 

Walking can reduce the effect of some of our obesity-promoting genes as well as reducing our craving for chocolate and sugary snacks. 

The American Cancer Society suggests studies show women walking seven hours a week reduced their risk of breast cancer. Surprisingly, several studies have shown walking five to six hours per week reduces arthritis pain as well as decreases arthritis from forming on our hips and knees. 

A study of over 1,000 working males and females who walked 20 minutes 5 days a week reduced their sick days by 45 percent especially in flu season.

It is important to use the correct walking shoes. When you walk, walk tall, not hunched over, which may cause neck and upper back pain. Look out about 10 feet in front of you.

I have always enjoyed being physically active, enjoying hiking, racquetball, tennis, jogging and biking. Now, at a more advanced age, these activities have lost some of their appeal to me. 

Fortunately, I have discovered pickleball, America’s fastest growing sport especially among middle-aged and older men and women. I also have become dependent on getting my walking in every day. 

On my last birthday, my wife gave me an apple watch. It is not something I “needed,” asked for, or expected. I wasn’t sure I would use it that much even though several of my grandchildren raved about theirs. 

However, now I have learned the many benefits, information and even motivation this new watch gives me. It tells me how many steps I have taken each day and how many miles I have walked. It tells me what my average resting pulse has been and what my pulse was with different activities. 

I was pleased to see an hour of pickleball is equivalent to 1.3 miles of walking. Walking my mini golden doodle, Jackson, every day usually accounts for 1.5 -2 miles for each walk. Dogs need to walk too, and it is another good reason to have a dog in addition to the unconditional love they show us. 

If I sit for too long a time, my watch tells me to get up and move around. At other times it tells me to take several slow deep breaths. 

How it knows that I need these things is beyond me, but I am happy that my watch “cares” for my health. 

When I am driving my car, if I get a text or email, it vibrates and the message pops up on the screen. With a quick glance I can ignore it without getting distracted by my phone. 

As long as my iPhone is in the vicinity, even my phone calls come in through my watch. It speaks to me clearly, and I can then answer the calls by talking into my watch. I feel like Dick Tracy, (remember him?), when he had his two-way radio watch.

I am at the twilight of my life now, and I want to stay as healthy and active as I can. I will continue to walk every day as long as I am able. 

I encourage you to do likewise. As some of my golfer friends say on a nice warm sunny day, “What a beautiful day this is, and it’s nice to be on the right side of the grass.” 

Keep walking as long as you can.

  Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Chuck Largent says:

    Walking is great, takes no skill, can be enjoyed year around, and be a great social form of exercise. Thanks Jim

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