Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Walk Your Way to Better Health

If you have a steady walking routine going you’re on the right track. But if you’re also stopping to smell the roses, you might want to skip it and pick up your pace. A new study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that speed increases longevity in older adults.
The researchers checked out nine different walking studies beginning in 1986 and completed in 2000. It included 34,485 adults, sixty-five years or older, and followed them for between six to 21 years. The researchers discovered that walking speed was associated with differences in the probability of survival at all ages, and in both sexes, but was especially important once the subjects passed the 75 year mark.
Stephanie Studenski of the University of Pittsburgh who conducted the study along with her colleagues said: "In this older adult population the relationship of gait speed with remaining years of life was consistent across age groups, but the absolute number of expected remaining years of life was larger at younger ages.”

Perhaps what’s even more telling is that the researchers’ findings were as accurate as longevity indicators for such factors as smoking history, blood pressure, body mass index, and hospitalization.

The authors suggested there are powerful reasons why walking speed may predict survival rates:"Walking requires energy, movement control, and support, and places demands on multiple organ systems, including the heart, lungs, and circulatory, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems. Slowing gait may reflect both damaged systems and a high energy cost of walking.
If you’ve never engaged in a walking program, or it’s been a long time, following these guidelines offered by experts:
-- Start slow and begin easy. Walk for ten minutes from your door and walk back.  Do that every day for a week.
-- If that doesn’t tire you, add five minutes to your walk – and continue to add five minutes each week until you’re up to 25 minutes. You can keep adding five minutes until you feel you’ve reached your limit.
-- Pay attention to your posture. Hold your head up, shoulders back and eyes forward. Try not to look down at the ground which isn’t good for your spine. If you can, keep your stomach tightened and now fall into a natural and relaxed gait.
-- Drink lots of water before, during and after walking.
-- Stretch when you first start out and when you return home.  This may help you prevent injuries and just plain Charley horse.
-- Make it a habit. Walk at least five days a week for at least thirty minutes a day.
-- Start walking at a “talking pace” which means you can carry on a conversation without gasping for breath.
-- Once you’ve got a routine going and you’ve gain strength and endurance – pick up your pace.
-- To improve cardiovascular fitness you should walk 3 to 4 days a week, 20 to 30 minutes at a very fast pace. At this pace you are breathing hard but not gasping for air.

About the author: Robin Westen is the author of “Relationship Repair.”

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