Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Could Walking be the Great Cure-All?

It’s wonderful to hear about all the medical and technological developments in diabetes care. Recently for example, there has been the prospect of a once a day injection for type 1 diabetes and continuous blood glucose monitoring systems being made more widely available. In healthcare generally, more and more scientific developments are reported daily, which is fantastic news.

However, it takes time and specialist expertise, not to mention money, for these experiments and research to become everyday realities and while we wait, we have to do something to look after ourselves. It struck me, reading through recent health reports, that one of the main ways we can do this is cheap, extremely close to home and doesn’t require any technology or expertise at all – yes, I’m talking about the humble walk. Well, I say ‘humble’, but looking at all the benefits, I’m not sure that all of us who use it regularly shouldn’t qualify for something at least like a Nobel Prize!

For example, walking can help prevent type 2 diabetes altogether. It’s recommended as one of the main interventions in guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for preventing type 2 diabetes, both in the general population and among those at high risk. 30 minutes of walking of moderate intensity on 5 or more days a week is the minimum recommendation.

Most people living or working with diabetes know, through book learning or, sadly, bitter experience, that ‘diabetes rarely comes to the party alone, it brings all its friends’ as one lady with diabetes memorably described the risk or presence of diabetes related conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Research shows that these too can be helped by walking regularly.

An increased risk when you have diabetes or other long term conditions, and sometimes even a precurser to having diabetes, is depression. Yes, there is evidence too of walking being beneficial in treating depression and even preventing it. Its mood-enhancing properties are frequently mentioned in research. In addition, when used as a social activity, walking can also be a way to combat loneliness after retirement, divorce or in older age.

Bringing together some scientific research and the benefits of activity is a recent report about the discovery of how genes can make a person biologically programmed to eat more. This is because a high risk version of a gene called FTO prevents a hunger hormone called ghrelin from falling after eating. One answer to this is to suppress ghrelin and tried and tested methods include eating protein rich meals and cycling. If cycling can work, why not walking? My guess is that it is only a matter of time for walking to be added to this list of weight gain preventive treatments in this group of people. Given that they will also be at risk of type 2 diabetes, through its link with obesity, it’s yet an other potential tick in the box of ‘benefits of walking’.

There are of course many people who for one reason or another cannot walk or walk well enough to take up even minimum guidelines. But even for you, there is good news. Walking is highly recommended as a form of activity, as we have seen, but it’s not the only one. Anything that makes you move more is helpful to health, says NICE, and the more times you move, in whatever way, is even better. So armchair movement including just your upper or lower body makes a difference. Passive or active, movement works.

So, we have the technology, in our very bodies, here and now, in any weather and at no cost, to make ourselves healthier both physically and mentally. It’s not often we can say that. Given that we should all be doing more of it, as our contribution towards this, we’ve recently added our booklet ‘SD Tips for a Lively 2013’ to our website download section, you’ll find the link to it just below. Help yourself to a copy and see if all this evidence works for you!

SD Tips for a Lively 2013! Quick, Easy and Fun Ways to Move About More.


BBC News. Fat boosting gene mystery ‘solved’. 15 July 2013

BBC News. Guide shows Borders walk benefits 25 June 2013

BBC News. Why retiring can be bad for your health. 16 May 2013

BBC News. Walking could be a useful took in treating depression. 14 April 2012

NICE. Preventing Type 2 diabetes – population and community interventions. May 2011

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