My father has Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). His muscles have stiffened and atrophied to the point that his gait has become plodding or shuffling, similar to Parkinsonís. Walking for him has become so difficult and tiring that he longs to be in a wheelchair and he has repeatedly asked for an electric one. I try not to lecture this grown man about the reasons he must persevere in walking, but there are so many benefits that he will give up if we allow him to stop.
Walking causes the heart to beat faster to increase circulation throughout the body. Increased circulation means more oxygenated blood gets to the organs, including the lungs, skin and muscles and keeps blood vessels healthier.
Those who walk have better cognitive function as a benefit of the brain receiving increased blood circulation. Nerve cells are protected from buildup of toxins and sensation to the peripheral extremities, hands and feet, is increased.
Using muscles maintains tone. That includes not only the heart and leg muscles, but the whole body. As all things in the body work together, the improvement in one area usually affects overall health.
Walking helps the bones remain strong. It increases bone density and slows bone loss as a result of aging or disuse of the legs.
It is one of the easiest ways to burn calories and increase energy. Blood glucose levels are lowered as well as insulin resistance. Therefore it reduces plaque from accumulating in the cardiovascular system.
Just the process of getting up and moving can help to relieve constipation. It decreases the time that it takes for the digestive system to process food by stimulating contractions in the intestines.
Psychologically, it can help improve depression, anxiety, and stress by increasing the production of endorphins, our bodyís natural source of well being. It may also reduce some types of pain.
Sleep comes a little easier when the body has the kind of exercise it receives from walking. It is best not to walk just before going to bed, but the exercise alone can tire you enough to get a good rest.
I know that my fatherís LBD will eventually lead to his inability to stand and walk. I also know that it is a challenge to him everyday just to make the effort at this stage. However, the benefits from continuing to get up and walk even just a short distance every day are so great that I encourage him to keep trying. I donít need to lecture, I just need to help him make it one more day.