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Walk The Mile

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From cutting critical ailments such as cancer risks to helping you sleep, we all know the benefits of walking. But this is perhaps the most overlooked and neglected form of exercise. Because it sounds and looks easy, most of us do not bother to walk, but prefer to sign up for expensive aerobic classes and spend a lot of time in a gym. Regular walking protects you against a number of illnesses and can be an efficient way to get around from A to B. You can easily build walk into a busy lifestyle and you can walk pretty much anywhere, at any time.
It is increasingly obvious that one of the best ways to maintain good health is through physical activity like walking. Regular participation in exercise has been shown to be helpful in the prevention of such killers as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. 
However, awareness alone is not enough to encourage individuals to walk more.  With an ageing global population and a dramatic increase in the incidence of chronic disease, promoting healthy lifestyles is essential if people are really going to enjoy longer, healthier, happier lives. Environmental degradation and the threats from climate change are also widely recognised as some of the greatest threats to global health in the 21st century. Healthy people need a healthy planet.
Taking its philosophy of “your health first”, to the next level, Max Bupa, specialist health insurance company, will host a pan-India multi-city “Walk For Health” campaign on November 4th 2012 in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore with an aim to encourage and motivate at least 20,000 people to walk more often and further, and to build more walking into their everyday life to make positive changes to their health. Our view is that individuals, businesses, local authorities and health professionals can all take small steps to help promote more walking to  support healthier lifestyles and combat the threatened international ‘epidemic’ of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, strokes and heart attack.
According to data available till December 2011, nearly 110 million people are believed to be suffering from serious illnesses like diabetes, heart diseases and cancer in India collectively. This figure is estimated to double in 15-20 years. 50 per cent of those with symptoms of diabetes are not even aware that they have a serious health problem. In the case of people with coronary (heart) problems, it is even more startling that a majority of them are either not aware of it or simply continue to live in denial of the severity of their condition.  
It is a proven fact that Indians are genetically more prone to diabetes, heart diseases and cancer. This is mainly because of our diet and lifestyle. A whopping 75% of adult Indians living in urban areas have either very little or no healthy leisure time physical activity at all.  Owing to our genetic constitution and largely unhealthy eating habits, we need nearly double the exercise than people living in countries which have a significantly healthier lifestyle and diet. 
Most Indians work very long hours in high pressure jobs generally up to 6 days a week. This leaves us with no time for regular leisure time physical activity. Time consuming long distance commutes to work makes it even more difficult to squeeze a gym workout into our schedules. This makes walking a significant source of the minimum exercise needed by our bodies.
 A new study recently published on-line in the current archives of Internal Medicine combined with a meta-analysis of several previous studies has shown that moderate exercise can reduce the occurrence of serious illnesses by as much as 38 – 40 per cent. Furthermore, walkers are thrice more likely to achieve the required level of exercise than non-walkers and gym users; because it does not require special equipment, location or training. Walking is free and can be done anywhere and at any time.
Studies have shown remarkably decreased risk of death in older people who walked regularly when they were young. Even if you have not done enough walking until now, it is not too late to start today and continue walking towards a healthier future.    
Exercising for a sustained period of time is still the best way we know to make improvements in your cardio respiratory fitness. But for many, exercising for long periods of time can be intimidating. And most of us experience days when unforeseen events throw off our schedules and prevent us from having a solid block of time for exercise.
Significant health benefits can be realised by simply ceasing to sit and starting to move. The risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, and colon and breast cancers can be reduced just by becoming more physically active like walking.
Lower your risk of or manage type-2 diabetes: Regular walks can keep your blood sugar levels under control which, in turn, reduces your chances of getting diabetes. Another major benefit of walking is to strengthen the heart. Walking regularly can help to lower blood pressure and levels of 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol while raising (HDL) 'good' cholesterol thus giving a healthier heart. As little as one hour of walking per week can lower coronary heart disease risk for people (including those who are overweight, smokers, or have high cholesterol). People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who start walking, halve their risk.
Just 15 minutes a day of brisk walking can have significant health benefits, even adding up to three years to your life expectancy. This can help you build endurance over time, helping you to feel and look good. Just like the muscles in your body, your bones get stronger when you use them. Because walking is a weight-bearing activity, it's a great way to strengthen your bones. This is particularly important for preventing osteoporosis, a condition where your bones become weak and are more likely to break. Additionally, walking can also improve your muscle strength, co-ordination and balance.
Lastly, walking is good for the environment too. With the increase of cars on the road, the consequential rise in pollution, congestion, and traffic accidents have created havoc with the ozone layer. By walking to places that we can instead of driving, we can reduce our carbon footprint and do our bit to save planet Earth too.
Don’t disregard walking as a beneficial form of exercise; it can do a whole lot of good for a very broad spectrum of people, from the very young to the elderly with little risk of injury and almost no cost. If you haven’t been active for a while, walking is one of the easiest ways to get started. Begin slowly and gradually build up how much walking you do. It’s important that you build walking into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit. Combine a walking program with a health diet that is high in fiber and healthy unsaturated fats, and you will see positive results!
Dr. Virmani is the Head – Relationship Doctor at  Max Bupa Health Insurance

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