The Super Power of Walking

September 24, 2022

Andrew Siegel MD  9/24/2022

Powerwalkingclub, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, no changes to image made

The abilities to ambulate and to have clear vision are arguably two of our greatest human assets. The gift of being able to walk is a special one, commonly not really appreciated until injury, infirmity, or age denies us the possibility. My 91-year-old father has significant arthritis in one knee and visual compromise because of macular degeneration, a combination that makes for a frustrating existence.

Walking is a serene and underrated activity that is both healthy and restorative. A walk always leaves me feeling not only energized, but better — physically and psychologically — than how I felt before the walk. Getting outside and exposure to fresh air, sunshine, and the constantly changing landscape of different neighborhoods, homes, trees, shrubs, flowers, people, dogs, etc., makes walking a stimulating experience as opposed to a treadmill (although there is something to be said for using a treadmill when it is not feasible to walk outside). Walking is easily integrated into one’s day.

Walking is a terrific social activity that can help cultivate bonding and connection between individuals.  It requires little equipment, can be done virtually anywhere, and the price is right.  Some even favor walking business meetings that have shown to be highly effective.  It’s a great activity to do with Fido, and he will be most appreciative. When going solo, listening to inspirational music, an audiobook, podcast, or simply the sounds of nature and the outside are options.

When I walk with my wife, we stroll at a relatively gentle pace, but when going solo I walk briskly. I traverse about 5 miles or so of moderately hilly terrain at a good clip, averaging about 4 miles/hour or even faster.  With maximal length strides and arms swinging rhythmically, I can double my resting heart rate and get an excellent aerobic, core and resistance workout, engaging most every muscle in the body. Constantly working the torso and postural muscles and using both arms and the legs helps burn fat, keep the waistline trim, and maintain a healthy body weight. 

I use my Apple watch on “outdoor walk” mode for tracking purposes. It tracks total time, distance, calories, elevation gain, average heart rate, average pace, splits (pace for each mile), and provides a map of the walk.  I start off relatively slowly and as I get warmed up, increase the pace, going faster and faster with each subsequent mile. The following images are from my walk 3 days ago:

Tracking of my walk this past Wednesday
Splits showing accelerating speed with each mile
Map of walk

Whether a stroll, power walk, or hike, and whether on the streets, park, up a mountain, or doing errands, walking provides numerous benefits. It is a wonderful means of improving balance, coordination, and posture, as well as muscle, bone, and joint strength.  It improves mood, decreases stress, anxiety, and depression, improves sleep quality, and enables more creative thinking. It helps tap into the pharmacy within, releasing a cocktail of happy chemicals. It sharpens one’s senses and makes one feel alive.

Studies have shown that walking at a brisk pace (as opposed to a slower pace) for 30 minutes a day leads to a reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes), cancer, dementia, and death.  The 30-minute interval need not be continuous but can be in brief bursts throughout the day. Walking at any pace helps moderate blood pressure and blood sugar levels and is particularly beneficial after a meal. Walking not only helps prevent a host of medical issues, but also helps to manage them.

Recently, I have experienced an annoying and somewhat disabling recurrence of sciatica due to a lumbar herniated disc. It is exacerbated by sitting, bending forward, and straining. Walking a few miles is therapeutic and provides more relief than Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve, and I use it as a means of ameliorating the pain.  When I begin the walk, the pain level is often at 6-7/10 and after about half a mile it gradually starts decreasing, eventually up to a point where it is barely noticeable.  I don’t quite understand the physiology of this — whether it is endorphins or joint lubrication or whatever — but it works, and does so consistently, providing me with pain relief for several hours.  Body magic, the super power of walking. That stated, I am having a lumbar epidural injection this coming Tuesday.

Wishing you the best of health,

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro AreaInside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community. He is a urologist at New Jersey Urology, one of the largest urology practices in the United States.  He is the co-founder of PelvicRx and Private Gym.  His latest book is Prostate Cancer 20/20: A Practical Guide to Understanding Management Options for Patients and Their Families. 

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Video trailer for Prostate Cancer 20/20

Preview of Prostate Cancer 20/20

Andrew Siegel MD Amazon author page

PROSTATE CANCER 20/20 is now available at Audible, iTunes and Amazon as an audiobook read by the author (just over 6 hours). 

Dr. Siegel’s other books:

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual, and Urinary Health

Video on THE KEGEL FIX

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health

PROMISCUOUS EATING— Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food