To say that something as simple and as fundamental as walking is the best medicine seems to be a very broad and sweeping statement. Why is it true?

What is the secret to good health? Diet and exercise, of course. Not much of a secret if everyone already knows the answer, but how and why do these improve health? We've all heard that the negative effects of stress causes health problems so it sounds reasonable to say that anything that reduces stress would improve health, and exercise is the surest way to reduce stress. You get started on the road to exercising by walking because walking is the easiest and most convenient way to exercise at all levels of fitness and, thereby, reduce stress and improve your health in a vast number of ways.

Stress does causes health problems but it is not nearly as simple as that, there is a missing step that needs to be well understood. It is more correct to say that stress causes chemical changes in the body and that those changes, when prolonged, eventually result in health problems. This is the classic "fight or flight" stress response that we remember so well from high school biology. Stress hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol) are released into the blood stream in response to stress. An example is this: Suppose you go out to the mailbox and find a letter from the IRS! Immediately your body responds to the stress by releasing stress hormones into the blood stream. As a result of that would your blood pressure go up? You bet it would. Would you suddenly be in a bad mood? Yes. How are you going to sleep tonight? Not well. Additionally, respiration increases and you get that knot in your stomach. All these effects and many more all caused by the chemical release of stress hormones into your blood stream.

I'm not suggesting that walking will help you with your tax problems, but it could help with your high blood pressure and help you to sleep better tonight. You might find that you're in a better mood as well.

3 Basic Sources of Stress

  1. Mental or Emotional Stress - this is what we were just referring to with the letter from the IRS.
  2. Chemical Stress - this is everything from pollutants in our environment to the chemicals and additives in much of the foods we eat, alcohol, nicotine, and even the drugs we take.
  3. Physical Stress - Which could be as dramatic as an accident or injury that breaks a bone or a herniated disc that pinches a nerve causing chronic pain, or as simple as not being physically fit enough to work and play.

The Response to Stress is Always the Same

It's important to understand that the body's response to stress is always the same regardless of which of the 3 Basic Sources caused the stress. That response is the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine and many others. So, for example, you might have high blood pressure because of Mental Stress - the IRS, because of Chemical Stress - your diet consists of potato chips and soda pop, or Physical Stress - your heart muscle is simply not in good enough shape to do what needs to be done.

Everything causes stress, and I think we would all agree that life is stressful. Exercise essentially burns away the stress hormones and this is the primary benefit. It's not about being physically stronger although this certainly is beneficial - it's about the chemical benefit that occurs. The best way to combat the harmful effects of stress hormones is to exercise to burn them away and the best, easiest way to get started is to walk. At the same time that "bad" hormones are being burned away, exercise promotes the release of "good" hormones into the system such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These good hormones inhibit pain and make us feel good. So when you exercise you're essentially burning away the bad hormones plus promoting the release of good hormones into the blood stream so you get a double dose of benefit.

See Also

  • Walking is the Best Medicine (Part I)
  • Walking is the Best Medicine (Part II) - a Double Dose of Benefit
  • Walking is the Best Medicine (Part III) - Getting Started
Author's Bio: 


Dr. Michael L. Hall, D.C. practices at Triangle Disc Care in Raleigh, North Carolina specializing in Spinal Decompression for the treatment of acute and chronic neck pain and back pain due to herniated, degenerated discs. This is a conservative procedure, first approved for use in the U.S. in 2001, for patients suffering with bulging or herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, posterior facet syndrome, sciatica, failed back surgery syndrome, and non-specified mechanical low back or neck pain.

My job is to improve a patient's back or neck pain to the point where they do sleep better and have more energy, and get them exercising so they break the stress cycle, stop chasing their tail, and improve their health. For more information call 919-571-2515, click on or email Type "Free eBook - 101 Things I Need to Know about my Bad Back" into the subject line.