A huge survey, The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which has been tracking the health behaviours of more than 200,000 nurses for more than three decades, has clearly shown that walking for 30 minutes a day can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by 30% to 40%, and the risk of breast cancer for women by 20% to 30%. If you need more reasons to grab your runners and start walking here are some other proven benefits of walking:

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE is the leading cause of death in Australia & New Zealand, however as we know in many cases it is preventable. According to one study, a third of all heart attacks and deaths due to heart disease could be avoided if the people simply walked for exercise.

Harvard University followed more than 70,000 women ages 40 to 65 for eight years and found that walkers were less likely to die from heart disease. Those who got three or more hours a week (or 25 minutes a day) reduced their risk of dying by 35%. Even those who were sedentary at the beginning of the study lowered their risk if they started walking during the study. So it’s never too late!

Walking is incredibly preventative for men too, looking at results of 18 studies involving a total of more than 450,000 men and women. For both sexes, just 9 kilometres per week (or 1.25 km a day), even at a leisurely 4 kph pace offers some protection. At that easy pace, you have to walk about 23 minutes a day to start reaping benefits. If you pick it up to a moderate 5 kph, you can hit it with 15 minutes of walking a day. People who walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or did both, enjoyed the greatest protection.

Inactivity promotes type 2 diabetes. Working your muscles more often and making them work harder improves their ability to use insulin and absorb blood sugar (glucose) this puts less stress on your insulin-making cells. Findings from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals follow-up study suggest that walking briskly for a half-hour every day reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30%. For those already at risk, doing shorter bursts of walking throughout the day may be even more effective. One study found that a 15-minute walk immediately after every meal provided better blood sugar regulation than a single daily 45-minute morning walk.

If you already have diabetes, increasing activity throughout the day by 4,000 steps or more can improve levels of HbA1c. Those 4,000 steps are approximately equivalent to 3.0 kilometres of walking, an amount that may also be enough to offset the increased risk of dying from heart disease that people with diabetes have. Walking at least 1.6km per day has been shown to cut that risk in half, based on research from the University of California, San Diego.

High blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and strokes, but walking is an effective way to lower blood pressure. Reviewing 27 studies, while most of the study participants did not have high blood pressure, the research showed reductions of 5 To 11 points in systolic blood pressure (the first number in a reading) and 3 to 8 points for diastolic pressure (the second number).

If your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 140/90 (prehypertensive range), you might want to break up your walking throughout the day. In a study from Arizona State University, a group prehypertensive adults either walked briskly for 30 minutes every afternoon or did three 10-minute walks, one each in the morning, afternoon, and evening, for a total of 30 minutes a day. While both regimens lowered blood pressure, multiple short walks resulted in a lower average blood pressure over 24 hours and reduced the number of spikes throughout the day, compared with taking one longer walk.

When you were a kid, a broken bone was an opportunity for all your friends to sign your cast, but as you age, falling and breaking a bone can be a serious problem. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both nonfatal and fatal injuries. One out of five people who suffer a hip fracture from a fall dies within a year. While the statistics are frightening, they are not a reason to hunker down on the sofa to avoid a fall. Staying active keeps your muscles strong and flexible so you’ll be less likely to take a spill. Weight-bearing activities like walking will also keep your bones stronger so you’ll be less likely to break one if you do fall. The Nurses’ Health Study found that women who walked at least four hours a week (35 minutes a day) had a 41% lower risk of sustaining a hip fracture compared with women who walked less than an hour a week.

More than 70 observational studies have found that physically active women have a lower risk for breast cancer. In 2013, a study of more than 70,000 women zeroed in on walking in particular. The results showed that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who walked three or fewer hours a week.

Walking also provided protection even if women were overweight, used supplemental Hormones, or had other risk factors. If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, walking has other benefits. It can help you to feel less anxious and fatigued, a common side effect of treatments. It can also reduce your risk of a recurrence and death. Women who walked three to five hours a week at about 5kph after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis were up to 40% less likely to suffer a negative outcome, according to a Harvard study of about 3,000 women.

A 15-minute walk has been shown to curb cravings for chocolate, according to a study from the University of Exeter in the UK. Another study from the same group found that walking for 15 minutes can also reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations, and let’s face it, it’s how many people deal with a bit of stress. People who sat quietly before performing a stressful task with a bowl of chocolates nearby ate almost twice As much candy as those who walked. The latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of those sugary snacks that we crave when stressed, tired, or bored etc.

A 45-minute morning walk may help you fall asleep faster when bedtime comes according to research published in the journal Sleep. During the yearlong study, researchers found that postmenopausal women who took five or more morning walks a week fell asleep faster than those who took fewer morning walks or those who walked in the afternoon. However, if you have insomnia, it may take a while for your sleep to improve. In a small study from North-western University, researchers found that exercising during the day did not affect that night’s sleep for women (average age of 61) with insomnia. But after 16 weeks of walking for 30 minutes three times a week, the women were sleeping an average of 46 minutes longer a night.

Walking 8 kilometres a week helps maintain brain volume and reduces memory problems in people who have mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 10-year study from the University of Pittsburgh. (A decline in brain volume means that brain cells are dying.) Even healthy adults benefited if they walked 10km a week. In particular, the hippocampus, a section of the brain that’s crucial to memory, normally shrinks by 1% to 2% a year in older adults without cognitive impairment. In a study related to the one above, researchers found that walking 10 kilometres a week for year not only offset the shrinkage, it actually increased hippocampal volume by 2%. Walking also appears to enhance brain connectivity so a person is better at planning, prioritising, strategising, and multitasking. When 65 sedentary people, ages 59 to 80, walked for 40 minutes three times a week for a year, brain scans showed greater connectivity, according to a University of Illinois study.

Anyone who’s taken a walk when feeling blue knows that it’s a great on-the-spot mood booster—and studies support this. But even for more serious depression, walking is a viable remedy. In fact, it can be just as effective as drugs, according to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. When researchers prescribed either an antidepressant or 30 minutes of walking or jogging three times a week to a group of men and women diagnosed with major depression, they observed similar improvements in both groups. Walking can even help in tough-to-treat cases. In a study of people whose depression appeared resistant to medications, researchers in Portugal found that combining drug treatment with walking produced results. Participants walked 30 to 45 minutes five days a week. After 12 weeks, 26% no longer had symptoms, and an additional 21% of them showed improvement.

Moving and especially walking lubricates joints and strengthens the surrounding muscles to keep them healthy. Studies have shown that walking 8-10 km per week may even protect you from developing osteoarthritis. Knees and hips are the most commonly affected joints with osteoarthritis, getting up and moving around is almost certainly the last thing that you want to do when your joints hurt, but research shows that walking can actually reduce pain. Walking also reduces the risk of becoming disabled if you have arthritis. Working up to 150 minutes of walking a week seems to offer the most benefit.

Walking can boost your immunity and protect you during cold and flu season. During a 12-week study of 1,002 men and women, Appalachian State University researchers found that walkers stayed the healthiest. Those who completed 20 minutes a day or more, 5 times a week, experienced 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less.

Invite family, friends, or co-workers to join you for a walk. It’s a great way to catch up or get to know someone better. If you need to have a tough conversation with someone, try doing it while walking. Striding side by side can make discussions easier because you’re more relaxed than when you’re sitting face to face.

Heading out by yourself can be a good way to escape the demands and expectations that occupy much of your time. As you stroll, you can clear your head, relax, and reflect. It can be valuable, quiet “me” time, allowing you to return refreshed. Or, you can take along an iPod and listen to music or podcasts that you don’t seem to find the time for during the day.

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