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Walking on Sunshine

Posted 6/26/2018 by UHBlog

Better health and fitness may be as easy as putting one foot in front of the other. Talk to us for more ideas on improving your wellness.

Parents with adult offspring walking on beach

Do you want to wake up your life, tone your body and ease your worries? Try taking a walk.

“Walking is not only the simplest exercise you can do, but it may also be the most effective,” says internal medicine specialist Roy Buchinsky, MD. “Some people may not consider walking to be a ‘real’ exercise because you're not changing clothes and sweating and going to a gym, but the bottom line is that it's a very beneficial aerobic physical activity. It raises the heart rate and the breathing rate. And what's really nice about walking is that just about anybody can do it.”

Walking, Dr. Buchinsky says, offers short- and long-term benefits for physical wellness, as well as mental and emotional health. And, he adds, a walking break at work can do wonders for mental clarity, creativity and productivity.

The benefits of walking include:

  • Mood enhancement. “If you're stressed out, go for a walk,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “If you're anxious, go for a walk. If you're feeling down, go for a walk. Walking increases your production of serotonin and dopamine - the feel-good hormones - and neurotransmitters that stimulate our brains. Within minutes, you'll start to feel better. And, it's the gift that keeps giving because it lasts for many hours at a time. You can go for a walk at 8 in the morning and the benefits are still there at 2 in the afternoon.”
  • Better long-term health. Activity is essential for controlling and reducing the risks of getting conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, weak bones and heart-related diseases. “Activity is the mother of wellness, and walking is probably the most beneficial activity you can do,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “And there are virtually no side effects from walking.”
  • Easy to do. Walking requires no special equipment or clothing - just a good pair of shoes - and it can be done anywhere. “Anybody at just about any fitness level can take a walk,” Dr. Buchinsky says.
  • Easy to track. Keeping track of your distance or number of steps is simple by using a pedometer or an app on your mobile device.
  • Your own pace. Walking isn't competitive. You can walk as fast or slow as you wish, and as long or short a distance as you wish. Walking at a brisk pace and/or a longer distance will burn more calories, but any pace or distance will produce some benefit.
    “If weight loss is your goal, you'll want to choose a more grueling activity, like running, playing tennis or swimming,” he says. Taking a walk, he says, will burn only about five calories per minute.

One of the fun things about walking, Dr. Buchinsky says, is that you can do it with a buddy.

“It's double the fun because you're also talking and socializing, and that is an important part of wellbeing as well,” he says. “And you're outdoors in the fresh air taking in nature – the beautiful scenery and the chirping birds. That contributes to our inner wellbeing.”

To keep it fresh, Dr. Buchinsky suggests varying your routes – and maybe even your running partner.

Research indicates walking at least 10,000 steps per day – which is about five miles – brings about optimal benefits.

“It doesn't have to be all at once,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “You can spread it throughout the day – even walking into work from the parking lot counts. But you should try to have at least a couple continuous periods of at least 10 minutes every day. Five thousand steps is better than nothing, but at 10,000, you start to get some bang for your buck.”

Walking at least a mile or so after dinner or during “TV time” can be particularly beneficial.

“Aside from the obvious benefits of exercise, it gets you out of the house during the time you're most likely to be peaking around the refrigerator looking for a snack,” he says. “The times when you're restless and bored are ideal times to walk.”

Walking can even be incorporated into your work schedule.

“I always suggest that people have walk-and-talk meetings instead of sitting around a conference room eating pastries,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “Studies show that when you walk your brain is functioning more, therefore you may get more ideas and think more clearly when you're walking and talking. A 10-minute walk that combines fresh air, physical activity, socialization and increased productivity can provide a lot of different benefits.”

Walking needn't be confined to Northeast Ohio’s limited number of nice weather days.

“Just because summers are short doesn't mean the walking season needs to be short,” he says. “Unless the ground is dangerously icy, walking is still the best activity in the winter. Treadmills are okay, but there are wellness benefits of being out in the fresh air – and you usually enjoy it with a buddy.”

Roy Buchinsky, MD is an internal medicine specialist and the director of wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Buchinsky or any other doctor online.

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