Take a walk to ward off lifestyle diseases

Lifestyle diseases like hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes are hitting younger men and women in India. But they can be prevented by making minimal changes to our daily routine.

Zee Media Bureau/Dr Sudha Reddy

Lifestyle diseases like hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes are now hitting younger men and women in India.

This trend is even more pervasive in the metropolitan cities of the country. Lack of physical activity is one of the most significant contributors to the manifestation of such diseases. Statistics reveal that as many as 75% of adult Indians living in urban areas have either very little or no time for physical activity.

Lifestyle diseases, unlike other diseases, can be prevented by making minimal changes to our daily routine. Since lack of physical activity is a major trigger for such diseases, making exercise a part of our routine is imperative for mitigating the risk from these. Walking, being one of the simplest and most sustainable forms of exercise can be extremely effective in preventing and fighting against lifestyle diseases.

Hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease due to high cholesterol levels are some of the common lifestyle diseases prevalent amongst Indians. Diabetics are also highly risk-prone to cardiovascular diseases besides other major health problems.

Walking can be highly beneficial against all these conditions. As per researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, brisk walking reduces the exercisers' risk of hypertension by 7.2 per cent, diabetes by 12.3 per cent and heart disease by 9.3 per cent.

Walking and Hypertension

Hypertension is a condition where the blood pressure in the arteries is elevated. It puts strain on the heart, as a result of which, the heart may enlarge. This increases the risk for heart attacks, stroke and kidney failure. Exercise increases to improve blood flow, increasing availability of Oxygen to the working muscles. Blood vessels may become more relaxed or dilated and allow the increased blood flow. Walking is known to reduce your blood pressure and improve blood circulation and all round cardio vascular functions.

A recent study reveals that even a little bit of weekly exercise is enough to lower blood pressure and improve overall fitness. Merely thirty minutes of walking three times a week, even if it was broken into ten minute walks throughout the day might be enough to keep your blood pressure in check.

Walking and High Cholesterol

Excess weight tends to increase the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in your blood, the kind of lipoprotein that's been linked to heart disease. Walking can help to lower LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, raise HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and reduce heart disease risk by:

  • Burning calories to aid weight loss
  • Controlling diabetes
  • Reducing high blood pressure
  • Raising your heart rate
  • Increasing your breathing rate and getting more oxygen to your body

Walking and Diabetes

Walking is one of the most popular and widely recommended forms of physical activity for people with diabetes. It is highly effective in controlling blood glucose levels. Studies have revealed that walking approximately one fifty minutes per week can reduce the risk of diabetes. By walking every day, for 30 minutes to an hour, diabetics can reap the following benefits:

  • Improved control on glucose (sugar) levels – walking helps in consumption of accumulated sugar levels in the blood.
  • Uncontrolled Diabetes increases risk of Ischemic heart disease
  • Weight control by burning calories
  • Improves blood circulation to feet and controls any complications of diabetic foot

It is interesting to note that when you stop exercising regularly, your blood pressure will return to its prior level, usually within a week. Therefore, you cannot "bank" your exercise, building up an account, so you can take time off. The benefits of exercise are reduced when you cease to partake of it on a regular basis. A small dose of exercise done over a long period of time has a much better result than a large amount done irregularly.

Walking can therefore act as a powerful tool in fighting against sedentary lifestyle diseases plaguing the lives of so many Indians today. Most of us are well aware of the benefits of walking, yet we fail to make it a part of our routine either due to lack of time, will, perseverance or motivation.

There is need for people to acknowledge the power of walking in order to reap its benefits for a healthier life. The Max Bupa Walk for Health campaign was initiated in 2012 to sensitize people about the benefits of walking and to inspire them to embrace this simple yet powerful form of exercise.

The third edition of the campaign that mobilised over 40,000 people in the first two years, is scheduled for November 9, 2014 in Delhi and Mumbai. For those willing to make a change in their lifestyle by making walking a part of their routine, it is a great platform to get started.

(Dr Sudha Reddy is a part of the Medical Advisory Team at Max Bupa Health Insurance. She is medical graduate (BAMS/Ayurvedic Medicine) with MPhil in Hospital and Health Systems Management(HHSM) from BITS Pilani).

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