I am often asked what my favorite exercise for health is - my answer is always walking.
The health benefits of walking are profound and proven. Walking can:
- Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
- Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Improve blood lipid profile
- Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
- Enhance mental well being
- Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
- Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
- Reduce the risk of kidney cancer
The cancer benefits always surprise me, because we rarely think in terms of walking and/or any form of exercise as reducing cancer risk.
The amount of walking needed to accrue these benefits seems to be somewhere in excess of 10,000 steps a day which is roughly 5 miles.
Most people don't walk nearly this much. When I checked out my average walking daily using a FitBit - I found I was walking about 5000 steps a day when I had not taken time to get out and walk.
This all reminds me of patient I saw years ago. Bob was a 68 year old with type 2 diabetes requiring insulin. He also had high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. He was on about five different medications. One day, he came into the clinic looking weak and ill. He had developed pneumonia and his glucose levels were sky-high. After sending him to the hospital for what turned out to be a week-long hospital stay, Bob never returned to clinic. Occasionally, I would get refill requests from him for this or that, but then it stopped. About 18 months later, Bob appeared at clinic looking happy, healthy, and thinner. I asked him what had happened and he told me that one day he decided not to take his medications anymore (a very dangerous thing to do) and start walking and eating right. After a few months, he was up to 10 miles a day. He lost over 30 pounds and his diabetes was gone. I simply didn't believe it, but a spot glucose was well under 100. He still did have a touch of mild hypertension, but nothing like before.
Bob through walking and reducing caloric intake had achieved something that eludes most doctors - he had successfully "walked off diabetes" and gotten rid of most of his medications (I did put him on mild antihypertensive).
In my opinion, type 2 diabetes is not really a disease per se. It is a state of extreme metabolic derangement. Depending on individual genetic predisposition, improper diet and lack of movement will result in type 2 diabetes in just about anyone (remember the movie "Supersize Me"?). In at least some cases (if not most), proper diet and movement will reverse type 2 diabetes, just like it did in Bob's case.