We’ve all heard about the benefits of walking – it helps strengthen our muscles, keeps our bones healthy and keeps us active.
Over time, however, we may see a decline in our own or a family member’s walking, particularly if they live in an aged care home. So why is it still so important they continue walking for as long as they can?
The benefits we see from walking are not only related to improved strength and balance, but there are also benefits for digestive health, cardiorespiratory health, cognitive function and quality of life. Simply maintaining the ability to walk from the bedroom to the lounge two or three times a day can dramatically improve an individual’s overall health and wellbeing.
Read on to learn how walking can benefit the different systems in our bodies.
The Cardiovascular System
One of the best gifts you can give your heart and lungs is exercise. Walking temporarily increases the heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate, allowing a greater volume of oxygenated blood to be pumped to the body’s working muscles.
Over time, this results in the heart becoming more efficient at moving blood around the body, resulting in a stronger heartbeat and a reduction in overall blood pressure. Secondly, by being more upright and moving, the lungs have greater room to move within the rib cage, allowing the lungs to open further and take deeper breaths, improving overall breathing efficiency and reducing the risk of pneumonia and chest infections. Furthermore, exercise boosts vessel ‘flexibility’.
When our blood pressure temporarily increases, arteries and veins are stretched due to an increase in blood flow. Over time this reduces inflammation and the build-up of plaque or cholesterol, which can lead to stroke or heart attack if left untreated.
The Musculoskeletal System
As we walk we place increased load on our joints and muscles, which results in stronger, more flexible muscles, better bone density and more stable joints. Allowing movement of our joints through walking reduces stiffness, which can lead to better pain management.
The ‘load bearing’ that occurs during activity encourages bone to create new bone, improving our bone density and reducing the risk of fractures. Finally, weight bearing helps stretch our muscles, particularly in the legs, and reduces the likelihood of pain caused by tight or contracted muscles, which we often see in people who are no longer able to walk.
The Digestive System
Walking, or exercise in general, can significantly improve the efficiency of the digestive system. The motion of walking helps reduce the time food takes to pass through the large intestine, limiting the amount of water the body absorbs from the stool and reducing the likelihood of ‘dry stools’, which is the cause of constipation.
Furthermore, walking speeds up your breathing and heart rate, which stimulates the natural squeezing reflex of the intestines, allowing food to pass through and exit the body more easily.
Finally, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that daily walking may prevent or postpone a further decline in brain function in those who are inactive (normally residents in aged care). This tells us that maintaining or improving the amount of walking can prevent a decline in problem-solving, memory and information processing.
Furthermore, as we walk and move, our body releases endorphins, or the ‘feel-good’ chemicals in our brain that help to regulate our mood. The more we move, the better we feel!
It is vital that we continue to walk for as long as possible. Whether it’s walking 5km a day or simply walking to the dining room for lunch each day, everyone can benefit physically and mentally from maintaining their walking ability.
If you or a family member needs help to improve or maintain the ability to walk, contact our team at The Physio Co for more information. We’d love to help!
Article written by Madeleine Wrigley (Physiotherapist – Melbourne West)