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    Walk Toward Better Health | Fall 2003 Out Here Magazine

    Get a pair of walking shoes, step outside, and walk your way to better health.

    Out Here

    By Bethanne Black

     

    Think of exercise as a life preserver," says Marilyn Bach, author of ShapeWalking: Six Easy Steps to a Healthier Life. "Each time you exercise or walk, you are taking care of your body, your most precious resource."

    A simple walking program can reduce health risks and extend your life. Besides improving flexibility and burning fat and calories, walking regularly can help to:

    • Condition your heart and lungs. "Research has shown that brisk walking is a highly effective way to reduce coronary artery disease and improve overall cardiovascular fitness," Bach explains.

    Walking improves the function of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system; increases energy and endurance; and promotes overall wellness.

    Bach recommends starting a walking program by setting small, manageable goals. "You will notice an improved mood almost immediately," she says. "Weight loss and other health benefits happen later."

    • Manage depression. It's no secret that exercise improves your mood and prevents depression. Physical activity elevates endorphins, which are "feel-good" chemicals manufactured by the brain to offset stress or pain.

    "A recent study has revealed that regular exercise is essentially as effective as taking anti-depressant medications," Bach says.

    • Control high cholesterol. "Walking contributes to a decrease in low-density lipoproteins (LDL or 'bad' cholesterol) and an increase in high-density lipoproteins (HDL or 'good' cholesterol)," Bach says.

    HDL is a beneficial cholesterol that carries fats away from the arteries and transports them to the liver for removal from the body.

    • Outsmart diabetes. Exercise can control or stave off Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes, which frequently is caused by a sedentary lifestyle, bad eating habits, and being overweight.

    Walking and exercise can reduce your blood sugar and improve your body's ability to utilize glucose," she says. What's more, it can help reverse the body's resistance to insulin that often occurs as a result of being overweight.

    • Prevent osteoporosis. "When a person walks at a brisk pace, the impact stimulates bone density and strength," Bach says.

    Post-menopausal women who walked four or more hours per week had a 41 percent lower risk of hip fractures compared with those who did little or no exercise, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    Bach recommends starting a walking program by setting small, manageable goals. "First, establish a habit of daily exercise," she says. "Start with a 10-minute walk at least five days per week."

    Walk briskly, as if you are five minutes late for an appointment. Gradually build up to 25 minutes per outing over the next 10 weeks.

    Be patient when starting out and don't get discouraged. "It takes time to establish an exercise habit, but results will occur," Bach says.

    "You will notice an improved mood almost immediately," she says. "Weight loss and other health benefits happen later."

    Bethanne Black is a freelance journalist who lives in Atlanta.

     

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