How to Get Health Benefit from Walking and Jogging

During the last three to four decades, literally hundreds of studies have been completed and reported in pro­fessional journals regarding the rela­tionship between exercise and health. The mainstream print and electronic media have carried many stories about the physical fitness movement. Dozens of Internet sites deal with physical fitness and health. As a re­sult, locating information about exer­cise and the benefits of the physically active life is relatively easy. Still, more than 60 percent of Americans con­tinue to remain either physically inac­tive or are not active enough to positively affect their health.

Only about 23 percent of adults participate in regular, vigorous physi­cal activity that involves large muscle groups in dynamic movement for at least 20 minutes, three or more days per week. Another 15 percent of U. S. adults report physical activity of any intensity five or more days per week for at least 30 minutes per workout. An alarming 40 percent of U. S. adults do not participate in any regular phys­ical activity. Yet, virtually all Americans believe that regular participation in physical exercise is one of the best prescriptions for a long and healthy life, although most would be hard-pressed to articulate why that is so.

The major health benefits derived from consistent participation in walk­ing, jogging, or any other aerobic activity are described below. Further­more, the evidence clearly shows that moderate-intensity exercise produces all or most of the health benefits that are associated with higher-intensity exercise.

To begin with, many long-term studies have shown that physically ac­tive people generally outlive their physically inactive counterparts. Of tremendous importance is that active elderly people maintain their func­tional independence into old age. The end result is an increase in the quality as well as the quantity of life.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. Physically active people have about half the risk of de­veloping coronary heart disease as those who are physically inactive. A sedentary lifestyle contributes to 250,000 deaths annually in the United States, mostly from heart disease or medical problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, all of which substantially raise the risk for heart disease. Not only does exercise pro­tect those who do not have heart disease, but it also reduces the risk in people with established heart disease by about 25 percent.

Thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous walking or jogging reduces the risk for strokes (brain attacks) in females. Similar data are not yet available for males, but the best guess is that they would respond in a similar fashion.

The two major lifestyle risk factors for developing Type II diabetes are overweight and lack of physical activ­ity. Both of these lifestyle conditions increase cellular resistance to insulin, which is a hormone needed to trans­port sugar (glucose) from the blood to the cells, where it can be used to fuel cellular functions. Aerobic exercises, which have an insulin-like effect, coupled with weight loss, markedly decrease cellular resistance to insulin and may normalize the body’s ability to use sugar as a fuel. Brisk walking or slow jogging on a regular basis de­creases cellular resistance to insulin in amounts approximately equal to more intense exercise bouts.

Mild to moderately intense aerobic physical activities seem to be some­what more effective in lowering and controlling blood pressure than are high-intensity exercises. A 30-minute walk five days or more per week is all that is necessary to achieve this healthy result.

Walking and jogging are weight-bearing physical activities that in­crease bone density and consequently decrease the risk of developing os­teoporosis (fragile bones that are easily broken). They also improve strength of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, thereby promoting joint stability and reducing the likelihood of injury.

Substantial data indicate that exer­cise (both aerobic and resistive train­ing) should be an integral part of a weight loss program. The two major roles of exercise in weight manage­ment are to prevent weight gain and to maintain weight loss after the diet ends. In addition, exercise may contribute to weight loss and health enhancement by: (a) burning calories; (b) suppressing the appetite in some people; (c) counteracting the ill effects associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, glucose intolerance, and the like; (d) producing healthy mood changes; and (e) coping with stress.

Walking and jogging have been credited with protecting the brain as well as the heart. The mechanisms probably involve the effect of exercise on lowering blood pressure and cho­lesterol. Exercise also has a vasodilat­ing effect on the arteries of the body including those that supply the brain.

Walking and jogging positively affect mood states. The psychological and emotional benefits include improve­ment in mood, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. A growing body of evidence indicates that mild to moderate de­pression can be improved substantially with consistent aerobic exercise. Finally, some evidence indicates that leisure-time aerobic activities and a high level of physical fitness reduce the risk of developing some forms of cancer.

This summary of the health bene­fits of walking, jogging, and other types of exercise is just the tip of the iceberg. If we could take just the ben­efits listed here and press them into a pill, few Americans would refuse to buy. The problem plaguing the major­ity of Americans is their refusal to commit the time and effort to achieve those benefits, and as of this time there is no exercise pill.

Filed Under: Health & Personal Care


About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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