People walk every day to get form one point to another without thinking twice about it.
But walking is vital to one’s health.
Up to 30 per cent of elderly patients who lose their ability to walk because of a fracture die from complications within a y ear, said Dr Lim Lian Arn, a orthopaedic surgeon at Raffles Hospital. The complications include chest infections, urinary tract infections and aggravated bed sores.
He said: “We usually lose our ability to walk because of an adverse health issue, which will further compound the condition we are in.”
Parts of bed-bound patients’ lungs may be congested and collect secretions, making them prone to infection, said Dr Jason Chia, a sports physician who heads the sports medicine and surgery clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Since the lower limbs are easily the part of the body that gets the most exercise, a lack of mobility can also contribute to weight gain, said Dr Tan Jee Lim, an orthopaedic surgeon at Gleneagles Medical Centre.
This, in turn, can result in obesity and a higher risk of related conditions such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Walking keeps one healthy by facilitating the flow of air in and out of the lungs and stimulating the heart to supply blood to the large working muscles, thereby keeping the heart fit, said Ms Pauline Leong, the principal physiotherapist at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
This has also been shown to help lower blood pressure.
Though a much more leisurely activity compared to running or cycling, walking helps older people maintain muscle strength and bone density, said Dr Chia.
“Despite the low impact, walking still puts some weight on the muscles and joints and thus provides a level of stimulus from these structures prevent disuse and atrophy,” he said.
This then reduces the risk of falls and subsequent injuries, said Ms Leong
Walking benefits mental health too.
When one is walking, the body releases “feel good” chemicals called endorphins which help one feel better about himself, said Associate Professor Ng Beng Yeong, who heads the department of psychiatry at SGH.
“Many people tend to ruminate over future happenings or pat events. Walking encourages one to focus on the present, providing respite for the individual who is overwhelmed by the daily hassles of life,” he said.
Dr Tommy Tan, a psychiatrist at Novena Medical Centre, said: “We live in a society where we give time to everyone else. When we walk leisurely, we give time to ourselves to appreciate the things we often take for granted. After all, we were born to walk.”
In this way, walking serves as a form of a spiritual pursuit or meditation that strengthens one’s mental health, he said.
Prof Ng added that with an increase in stamina, body strength, physique and general well-being, a person’s self-esteem may also improve.
Walking is the easiest form of exercise to kick start one’s exercise programme to maintain fitness.
One can start walking without worrying about gym memberships, expensive equipment or pool admissions.
Dr Tommy Tan said he encourages his patients to walk because it is the cheapest and simplest form of exercise, with no special equipment needed.
“Walking can be done at any time, at the workplace, at home or anywhere”
One should do leisure or brisk walking at least five times a week, with each walking session lasting 30 minutes.
The pace should be of moderate intensity.
“In practical terms, this is fast enough to feel slight breathlessness but one is still able to converse in full sentences,” said Dr Chia.
People who are unable to set aside time for walking can break up the sessions into 10-minute bouts. However, each bout of exercise still has to be done at moderate intensity.
The elderly should walk at a moderate intensity for up to an hour daily to maintain their fitness, Ms Leong said.
“They will then realize that they are able to do more in their daily activities without being winded or tired. This will motivate them to continue and increase their activity levels,” she said.
She added: “You can get major health benefits from a relatively mild form of exercise as long as you do enough and do it regularly.”