The simple activity you’ve been doing since you were a baby is being called a wonder drug
Is walking a cure-all? Maybe not, but don’t be surprised if the next time you see your doctor, he hands you a prescription to do more of this free and portable activity. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other is being called “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Director Thomas Frieden, M.D.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know physical activity is great for your overall health. But walking in particular comes with a bunch of benefits. Walking for 2.5 hours a week—21 minutes a day—can trim your risk of heart disease by 30 percent. It’s also been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep your mind sharp. Here are five more health perks from walking that may surprise you:
- It helps tame that sweet tooth. According to studies, a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and reduce the amount of chocolate you eat when you’re stressed. New research even confirms walking can reduce cravings for a variety of sugary snacks, not just chocolate.
- It eases joint pain. Several studies have found walking reduces arthritis-related pain. Do it five to six miles a week and possibly prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. How? Walking protects the joints—especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis—by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
- It boosts immune function. Walking can keep colds and flu at bay. A study of more than 1,000 men and women found those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43 percent fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. If they did get sick, it was for a shorter time with milder symptoms.
- It fights the effects of weight-promoting genes. Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in more than 12,000 people to determine how much these genes contribute to body weight. They discovered the effects of those genes in study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day were cut in half.
- It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers know physical activity can lessen the risk of breast cancer. An American Cancer Society study that focused on walking found women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer each week. Even better: Walking provided this protection even for women who had breast cancer risk factors, including being overweight or taking supplemental hormones.