Walking even short distances, linked to accompanying coordination and stretching exercises, has a measurable effect on general health, helping to reduce weight, improve the Body Mass Index and reduce blood pressure.
The conclusions result from a study conducted at the University of Halle Wittenberg in Germany and publicised by the German Hikers' Association.
The association has developed a health walking course together with physiotherapists. For seven weeks, 18 people working in various professions met twice a week to walk and exercise according to the programme. A group of 16 people, from the same age group, not exercising served as a control group.
Exercises to loosen shoulder muscles
"The walks were set for one-and-a-half hours," Christine Merkel of the association said. Depending on the terrain, the walkers covered between 3.7 and 5.6 kilometres per session.
The participants, who were aged on average 53.6 years and who were not involved in any other sporting activity, spent one hour of each session exercising. They would stop twice during the walk to do exercises set by the physiotherapists.
"For example, there were exercises to loosen the shoulder muscles or to improve coordination - for example standing on one leg, with eyes open and then with eyes closed, or balancing a stick on the foot," Merkel said.
Blood pressure value improved
Other aspects covered were progressive muscle relaxation and three minutes of rapid walking, and an expert was on hand to provide tips on a healthy lifestyle.
The researchers recorded data on the health of the subjects and of the control group before the study commenced and again after seven weeks. No change was found in the control group, but for those participating in the health walking course their average weight loss was 1.3 kilograms.
Blood pressure values improved, heart rates at the same walking pace dropped from 131 to 122, and so-called endurance - measured on the basis of lactate values and blood oxygen content - increased. In addition, coordination skills also improved, as measured by standing on one leg on a moving board, Merkel said.
(Sapa, May 2012)