When someone advises you to “walk it off,” they’re usually referring to a minor injury. But that advice might actually work if you’re in the hospital for a serious illness. A study from the University of Haifa’s Department of Nursing found that older patients who walked around the ward shortened their hospital stays by an average day and a half, compared with those who stayed in bed.
Walking back to health
The study focused on patients over age 70 who were hospitalized for at least two days. Researchers tracked the physical activity of those who had the option to get out of bed and move around (immobile patients were excluded from the study). Those who walked around in a room or around the hospital spent an average of 36 fewer hours in the hospital than those who stayed in bed or a bedside chair.
So why does walking around help patients walk out of the hospital sooner? According to the researchers, becoming immobile, even for just a few days, reduces muscle capacity. And that can prevent a patient’s entire body from functioning in top form, leading to other health complications that lengthen the hospital stay.
Unfortunately, according to researchers, many patients assume that complete bed rest is the best way to recover sooner. Therefore, hospital staffers should do more to encourage walking for patients who can safely do so.
Benefits of taking a walk
The University of Haifa study adds to a body of established research that correlates physical activity levels with well-being. According to online educational campaign EveryBody Walk, regular walking might reduce the risk for some cancers, including colon cancer and breast cancer. The campaign sites data from the American Cancer Society that suggest 90,000 new cancer cases a year in the United States may be associated with a decrease in physical activity and prolonged sitting. Research also has found walkers to be less likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Although walking is associated with better health, it’s not necessarily a miracle cure. For example, an underlying disorder could cause both inactivity and a particular disease. And those who have the energy to walk may simply be healthier people in general who wouldn’t be obese or suffer from heart disease even if they were less active.
Still, at the very least, taking a walk every day has been found to help people lose weight, often the first step toward overall better health, according to AARP. It also can be an energy- and mood-booster — both things hospitalized patients need.