Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Benefits of Walking

        Health | Exercise

Walking and Disease

The simple act of walking can decrease your chances for contracting diseases like diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis.

A regular walking program can help you reduce your chances of developing Type II, or non-insulin-dependent, diabetes. Because a program of regular exercise is extremely helpful in weight management, by reducing the risk of obesity, you also reduce the risk of becoming diabetic.

Exercise improves your muscles' ability to respond to insulin and take up more glucose. It can help you reduce your risk of developing diabetes, as well as manage the disease if you already have it. In addition to regular exercise and proper diet, careful monitoring of blood glucose levels is important to diabetes management.

Because of the positive impact of exercise on the immune system, exercise can reduce your overall cancer risk. For site-specific cancers, exercise may have a different impact on cancer development.

Regular physical activity has been shown to lower the risk of both breast cancer and colon cancer. The mechanism for reduction of breast cancer risk may be due to hormone level changes and reduced body fat that result from exercise. Colon cancer risk may be lowered due to reduced intestinal transit time, thus decreasing the time that possible carcinogens may come in contact with the colon wall.

Osteoporosis is a relatively common disorder characterized by a decrease in the calcium content of the bones, which leaves them thin and susceptible to fracture. The causes of osteoporosis are largely unknown. However, the chances of acquiring the condition seem to increase dramatically with age, especially for women.

One prevailing theory maintains that osteoporosis results from a loss of the female hormone estrogen, which affects the calcium content of the bones. Menopause (cessation of menstruation) may lead to osteoporosis because the body's production of estrogen is greatly reduced after that time. Almost one-third of all women over the age of 60 experience osteoporosis to some extent.

People who are inactive, either by choice or due to confinement because of illness, seem more susceptible to the disorder. A diet deficient in calcium (which promotes bone development) may also contribute to osteoporosis.

Physicians urge their female patients to engage in regular weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, and resistance exercise (such as weight training) throughout their lives; in these exercises, the bones and muscles must work against gravity or another force to support the body (as opposed to swimming, in which the water supports the body), so they help to build and strengthen bones as well as muscles and thus help prevent the frailty caused by osteoporosis.

Likewise, patients who suffer from osteoporosis are typically encouraged to follow an exercise program that will strengthen the muscles supporting their weakened bones; such individuals, however, need to seek the advice of their doctor and perhaps an exercise physiologist before beginning any exercise program and should avoid certain activities, such as lifting heavy objects, in order to protect the bones in the spinal column.

Walking and other exercise can affect your total quality of life, too. Read on to discover how walking can help you sleep -- and give you more energy.

To learn more about walking, see: