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Walking Daily Leads to Big Strides Toward Better Health

By Lisa Liddane - The Orange County Register

It's understandable to be fixated on pounds lost when obese people are trying to improve their health through better nutrition and regular exercise.

After all, health experts at every turn are telling us that obesity is on the rise.

But scales aren't a sufficient way to measure the more immediate but less easily apparent health benefits of walking and a sound nutrition plan and physical activity regimen, said Dr. Nick Vaziri, director of nephrology and hypertension at University of California, Irvine.

After three weeks of walking daily at a mild-to-moderate pace from 45 minutes to 60 minutes combined with a diet high in grains, fiber, vegetables and fruit, 11 obese men reduced their high blood pressure, lowering their risk for heart disease and kidney disease, according to a study Vaziri co-authored with researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The men lost 4 percent of their body weight and improved their health.

At the beginning of the study, seven of the 11 men had hypertension — blood pressure of more than 140/90.

At the end, none of them had high blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure (pressure as the heart beats) dropped by 14 percent, while diastolic blood pressure (pressure as the heart relaxes between beats) dropped by 10 percent.

Other benefits:

  • Oxidative stress dropped by 28 percent. Oxidative stress is the presence of harmful oxygen — free radicals that attack cells and tissues.

  • Nitric-oxide availability rose by 28 percent. Nitric oxide helps relax the blood vessels, reducing blood pressure.

  • Cholesterol decreased by 19 percent.

  • Insulin levels dropped by 46 percent.

  • Blood glucose or blood sugar fell by 7 percent.

    The men walked every day at a pace that was enough to raise their heart rate to 60 percent to 70 percent of their maximum heart rate.

    They ate five servings of high-fiber whole grains, four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit daily served all-you-want buffet style, every day. They had one serving of chicken or fish for dinner.

    Vaziri said that the size of the study is a limitation, but the results are important.

    "It's never too late to make lifestyle changes," Vaziri said. "It doesn't have to be terribly painful exercise or strenuous diet restrictions. The mere conversion to a healthy diet with fiber, fruits and vegetables containing a lot of antioxidants and micronutrients plus moderate to brisk walking is sufficient to make a lot of difference."

    In a society in which we're constantly looking for ways to fight obesity, we are constantly being seduced with pills, gadgets, machines and diets that promise quick and drastic weight loss, Vaziri said.

    But simple fundamentals of nutrition and physical activity do work. And maybe there's something to be said for not obsessing too much about what the scales show and focus instead on other measurements of health, he said.

    Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane@ocregister.com.

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