You don't have to be an exercise physiologist to appreciate the fact that the human body was meant to move. Physical activity is more than a perk bestowed by the human physique, it is an integral component of your ongoing good health. Walking and exercising three days per week or more confers health benefits from head to toe throughout adulthood, improving your quality of life and longevity.
Healthy Muscles and Bones
"Use it or lose it" applies to your muscles in a literal sense. Lack of exercise causes your muscle shrinkage, or atrophy. Walking and other forms of exercise help you maintain adequate muscle mass. This exercise-induced benefit is especially important during middle and late adulthood, when your muscle mass typically diminishes and strength wanes. Including resistance training or weight lifting in your exercise program at least twice weekly helps you maintain muscle strength. Your bones also benefit from walking and strength training. When you walk, your spine and legs bear the weight of your body. Weight bearing keeps your bones strong and helps prevent osteoporosis. Strength training two or more days per week adds to this bone-building effect.
Walking can improve your cardiovascular fitness, reducing your risk for a heart attack and stroke. (ref 5) To gain these benefits, your pace should be fast enough to increase your heart rate to approximately 65 to 80 percent of your maximal heart rate. To gauge whether your heart rate is in this range, use the "talk test." Walk fast enough to increase your breathing rate and break a sweat, but not so fast that you cannot talk. If you can recite the lyrics of a favorite song aloud but cannot sing the song, you're walking at the right pace to gain cardiovascular benefits. Walk at least 150 minutes weekly at this pace to ensure your heart is benefiting from your exercise program; this would be 50 minutes per session if you walk three days per week.
Walking and other forms of exercise burn calories, which helps you manage your weight. The pace, your weight and the duration of your walking sessions influence how many calories you use. For example, a 160-pound man or woman typically burns roughly 205 calories per hour at a 2 mph pace and 315 calories at a 3.5 mph pace. Using your muscles as your walk or work out also keeps your metabolic rate up, another important factor in maintaining your body weight within a healthy range.
Improved General Health
Being physically active improves your overall health by reducing your risk for potentially life-threatening diseases and conditions, including breast and colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol. Walking and other forms of exercise also improve your sleep and thought processes, reduce your risk for fall-related injuries and may prevent or relieve depression.
- MedlinePlus: Muscle Atrophy
- Sarcopenia -- Age-Related Muscle Wasting and Weakness: Mechanisms and Treatments; Gordon S. Lynch, Ph.D.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Has Many Health Benefits
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity and Health
- American Council on Exercise: Validating the Talk Test as a Measure of Exercise Intensity
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