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Walk — with a little help from your friends

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Walking is beneficial to health. But a review of 42 studies has also shown that people who walk regularly — in groups — have lower blood pressure, resting heart rate and total cholesterol.

Sarah Hanson, a co-leader of the research published in British Journal of Sports Medicine, reported: “Our research shows that joining a walking group is one of the best and easiest ways to boost overall health. The benefits are wide ranging — and they go above and beyond making people more physically active. What’s more, people find it relatively easy to stick with this type of exercise regime.

“The merits of walking — including lowering the recurrence of some cancers — are well known, but these findings show that the dynamics and social cohesion of walking in groups may produce additional advantages.

“People who walk in groups also tend to have a more positive attitude toward physical activity, a shared experience of wellness, and say they feel less lonely and isolated. Taking regular walks can also be a catalyst for adopting other healthy behaviors.

“The research evidence suggests people enjoy attending walking groups and appear less likely to drop out than many other forms of activity.

“Walking is safe and walking groups could provide a valuable line of treatment, with a potential for both physiological and psychological health benefits,” she added.

Some key findings from the research include:

  • People who joined walking groups registered statistically significant falls in average blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, weight and total cholesterol.
  • Walkers also experienced improvements in lung power, overall physical functioning and general fitness, and they were less depressed than before they started walking regularly.
  • Evidence was less clear-cut for reductions in other risk factors for ill health, such as waist circumference, fasting blood glucose and blood fats.
  • Three-quarters of all participants stuck with the group and there were few side effects, apart from a handful of falls on roots or wet ground and minor injuries such as calf strain.

Researchers say the findings point to a cost-effective and low-risk way of enhancing overall health that doctors should be recommending to patients.

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