Fitness and Healthy Living: Study Shows Getting Benefits from Exercise is ‘A Walk in the Park’

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With all the ads for exercise equipment, videos, and gym memberships, it’s easy to get to get confused about exercise.  We get worried that what we do won’t be enough to achieve our weight loss goals or improve our health.  My own personal trainer confessed that although she knows ‘no pain, no gain’ isn’t necessary to increase your fitness level, she sometimes feels more secure if she’s a little sore from a workout. 

We’ve all heard about the benefits of walking, but I’ve often heard people remark that walking really isn’t exercise. For those who do enjoy walking, you still may wonder or feel anxious about how many minutes you should work out or at what intensity. A recent study, undertaken by physicians from the Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine in Matsumoto, Japan, may help to bring some clarity.

"Getting out there and taking a walk is what it’s all about," says James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic expert on obesity. Dr. Levine discusses this study in his editorial "Exercise: A Walk in the Park?" and concludes that walking is all around good exercise, whether you’re looking to improve your blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, joint problems or mental health. "You don’t have to join a gym, you don’t have to check your pulse. You just have to switch off the TV, get off the sofa and go for a walk."

Over five months, the Japanese researchers studied 246 adults who engaged in either no walking or moderate to high-intensity walking. The group who engaged in high-intensity walking experienced the most significant improvement in their health, the researchers found. The study determined that high-intensity interval walking may protect against high blood pressure and decreased muscle strength among older people.

The study, according to Dr. Levine, whose editorial appears in the July 2007 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, lends credence to the notion that walking is a legitimate, worthy mode of exercise for all people. Dr. Levine says it’s a welcome message for his patients, who fight obesity and appreciate that a walk is one way to improve their health.

Walking "is there for everyone," Dr. Levine says. "Walking doesn’t cost you anything, you can do it barefoot and you can do it now, this minute." "Sitting is bad for cholesterol, it’s bad for your back and muscles," Dr. Levine says. "It’s such a terrible thing for our bodies to do and the less of it you do, the better. But activity is not easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it."

Part of the reason taking part in fitness isn’t easy is because we try too hard and don’t have faith that simple healthy lifestyle changes can make a difference. But if we take the pressure off ourselves in the short-term and just get out there, we’re on our way towards developing a sustainable fitness routine which will serve ourselves and our bodies well over the long haul.

By Laura Brooks

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