There’s a new single treatment for almost all chronic diseases. It’s free. It’s proven to be as effective, if not more effective, than mainstream drugs for multiple major killers. The treatment? Walking.
Apps like Moves want me to walk. They count my steps and reward me if I happen to break my daily record. Which I do, sometimes, when I walk longer routes to and from work.
Walking is associated with better physical health, but also mental health. Wouldn't this be a fantastic reason to justify my hour-long walk to work in the morning (and a good excuse to be late for work)?
GPS and step trackers are building beautiful maps of where you have been walking or running.
Note: Garrett Miller,a designer and developer at Mapbox, mapped his history of walking, biking and running from two years of using Moves. Legend: YELLOW and RED is biking, PINK is running, BLUE is walking.
Exercise, a balanced diet, no tobacco, no alcohol and a healthy weight have all been found to drastically reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Dr. Norman Doidge found that men who had at least four of those behaviours had a 60% reduction in risk of developing dementia. The healthy lifestyles had a broader impact with a risk reduction of 50% for diabetes, 50% for vascular disease and 60% for all-cause mortality.
In an interview on ABC Australia, Dr. Doidge - a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, and author of the book “The Brain's Way of Healing” talks about this study from 2013 in more depth. This study was referenced in 400 medical research papers.
Full view here
The risk of each condition is higher at the top of the vertical axis. Each line represents groups of men with different numbers of healthy habits. The red line represents men with unhealthy lifestyles and the green line represents men with very healthy lifestyles. 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week does the job, according to official international guidelines.
This boils down to half an hour every weekday. 10,000 steps a day has also been used as a cut-off point or daily target to reap the health benefits.
If you're keen to follow my example and walk to work for mental and cognitive health, be aware that you need good walking shoes (mine were terrible, and I got blisters until I changed). The study monitored the health habits of 2,235 men over a 35-year period. This is a teeny tiny sample from a specific setting - Wales.
Even so, similar results have been replicated in other settings independent of Welsh fashion. A miserable 1% of the men followed all five behaviours in 2009. The study did not include women (!) - further research welcome.
Another Study: Exercise Vs. Drugs
Another study compared physical activity with drug use for specific chronic diseases, and found ... guess what? Exercise is good. Huseyin Naci et al. (2013) combined a whopping 205 randomised controlled trials totalling to 339,274 individuals. The aim was to compare the effectiveness of drugs vs. exercise in reducing your chances of, well, dying.
It turns out that exercise and many drugs are just as good as each other at reducing the probability of death in coronary heart disease and prediabetes. For stroke, exercise beat all drugs. Having said that, there was a bit of variation between each of the drugs. Diuretics, used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure are, in fact, better than exercise. Biguanides also beat exercise for prediabetes.
Well, physical activity is free and accessible to most people - a point Norman Doidge wanted to make. Drugs are not free. Not at all. In the US, patients with health insurance paid 49 billion US$ out of their own pocket on retail medicines in 2010.
Last, but not least, I have grown to love walking to work and prefer it over a bus commute. I love it, it makes me feel great to be on my feet every single day.