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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

A little motivation to take a walk

By Jancee Dunn

Like so many of us, I spend too much time hunched over a computer. So throughout my day, I ask myself: Can this activity be done while walking? I’ve recently taken meetings and made eight-minute phone calls on foot, and I turned one coffee date with a friend into a ramble through the park.

My incentive? The results of a literature review published last month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers examined 196 studies and found that a brisk walk — of at least 11 minutes a day — significantly lowered participants’ risk of heart disease, many kinds of cancer and mortality overall.

The same study found that those who did at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week slashed their risk of early death even more.

Many of us still need a little nudge to get up and moving. Here are several incentives.

— Decrease aches and pains: It’s tempting to stay off your feet if you’re in pain, but that’s not always the best course of action. Nearly one-quarter of adults in the United States have arthritis, for instance, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity (such as vigorous walking) each week to help manage symptoms.

A 2022 study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, involved people ages 50 and older with osteoarthritis in their knees and found that those who walked regularly had less frequent knee pain. The research also suggested that a consistent walking routine may slow the damage that occurs within the joint, said Dr. Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo, an associate professor of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the lead author of the study.

Research suggests that activities such as walking might also help relieve lower back pain.

— Therapy enhanced: “Walk and talk” therapy takes place outdoors, either in person or over the phone, and can be a refreshing alternative to more traditional sessions, said Lynn Bufka, the associate chief of practice transformation for the American Psychological Association.

“All that we know about the benefits of exercise — in terms of combating depression, and reducing anxiety, and helping with insomnia — are the same things we’re trying to address in psychotherapy, so how can we fit them together?” she said.

— Sharpen your memory: Feeling forgetful? A brisk, fast-paced walk may be useful, but “brisk” is the key word, said Rong Zhang, a professor of neurology and internal medicine at the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern.

Zhang and his colleagues conducted a small study of middle-aged and older people with memory impairments and found that a half-hour walk — five days a week, over the course of a year — improved blood flow to the brain and cognitive functioning. A follow-up study, published last year, found similar results in older adults without cognitive impairments: They experienced improved memory as well.

“You need to make an effort to get up that heart rate, where it’s a little more challenging,” Zhang said, adding that you should “feel a little shortness of breath” and conversation should become more difficult.

— Brooding begone: If you’re trapped in a worry spiral, a half-hour trek in nature can dial down ruminative thoughts. A 2020 study in The Journal of Environmental Psychology found that a 30-minute walk significantly reduced a negative mood and “elicited more awe.”

One effective way to treat rumination is through disruption. “A walk can disrupt the cycle enough to get us out of the looping thoughts,” Bufka said.

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