Walking is a free, easy, and effective way to get your daily exercise. It’s not just for general health and fitness – walking has a ton of other important benefits for your entire body. Daily walks can boost your health, reduce excess weight, and invigorate your mind. Walking is also a great way to get outside, find companionship, relax in nature, and restore and rejuvenate both your body and mind.
Whether you need more motivation to take your daily walk or whether you’re thinking of starting a walking routine, knowing the benefits of walking can help you stick to your plan and walk even further.
Walking Boosts Your Physical Health
- Improved aerobic performance: Walking increases your body’s aerobic performance and stamina while also improving your trunk muscles. This can potentially reduce or stave off lower back pain.
- Decreased cholesterol: Walking reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing total cholesterol (TC) and LDL cholesterol (i.e., “bad cholesterol”).
- Better heart health: If you walk enough to expend an extra 150 calories a day (or 1000 calories a week), you can potentially decrease your risk of heart disease by 50%. It can also decrease your risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes by a whopping 30%.
- Improved lifespan: The more you walk, the longer you may live. Researchers studied the walking habits of 707 retired, nonsmoking men (61 to 81 years old) for two years. For the next 12 years, researchers analyzed how many died. Results indicated that the mortality rate of those who walked less than 1 mile per day was nearly twice the rate of those who walked at least 2 miles per day, and those who walked the most lived longer.
- Improved immune function: Walking can boost immune function and help avoid colds. People who walked 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week had 43% fewer sick days than those who only took one weekly walk.
Walking Can Help You Lose Weight
- Burn calories: Walking is cardio that almost anyone can do. Most people can burn 200-300 calories per hour depending on walking speed and body size. By increasing your intensity, you can burn even more calories and lose more weight.
- Reduce body fat: Daily walking reduces visceral fat. Visceral fat is the fat that accumulates inside your body around your organs, and it is associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries.” Although you can’t necessarily target belly fat, walking, and healthy eating can get rid of belly fat over time.
- Reduced cravings for sweets: A study found that a 15-minute walk reduced cravings for sugary snacks among overweight people. Walking may stimulate your mind and body which can interfere with cravings.
Walking Improves Your Mental Health
- More creativity: A Stanford study found that walkers had a creativity boost of up to 60% when compared to people sitting down. Need a burst of inspiration? Try taking a walk.
- Reduced blood pressure: Walking reduces blood pressure and anxiety. Relaxation and exercise both lower blood pressure and anxiety symptoms.
- More energy: Getting up and moving around can actually increase your energy levels. If you have to stay seated for long periods of time, try taking a short walk every 30-60 minutes for a creativity and energy boost.
- Stay happier, longer: Mental health boosts from walking last long after you stop. Researchers found that the benefits from resting alone lasted a mere 20 minutes, while the beneficial effects of exercise lasted 3 hours. Other studies have found mental health benefits from a walk can last as long as 7 hours!
- Experience nature: Walking in nature (or in “green spaces”) rather than urban areas can boost the benefits of walking even more. Researchers found that walking reduced blood pressure and increased both self-esteem and mood. However, walkers who walked near pleasant green spaces had a significantly bigger boost in self-esteem.
- Keep your brain sharp: 766 American women, aged 70 to 81 years, were followed for two years. Those who walked the most had a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment than those who walked less often.
Groups Who Benefit Even More From Walking
- Longer Lifespan: If you’re a senior, your walking speed and your ability to maintain a faster walk can predict your health and lifespan. A 2011 study found that seniors who walked faster than average lived longer. Although it could be that people with more health conditions naturally walk slower, keeping active and walking more can’t hurt.
- Preserve muscle mass: Exercise can help preserve muscle mass in seniors. After age 30, men especially begin to lose muscle mass. Walking and other forms of exercise can help to reduce muscle loss for both men and women. Losing muscle doesn’t just impact your physique – retaining functional strength for daily tasks and the ability to keep moving and keep fit is very important for seniors.
- Maintain exercise longer: A Japanese study of 44 to 78 year-olds found that 70% kept up a walking routine after 3 years. Compare that with gym memberships, where 67% of people never even use them.
- Reduced risk of stroke: Walking can reduce your risk of having a stroke, which is a major health danger for seniors. Researchers studied 72,488 middle-aged nurses and compared their walking activities to their risk of stroke for the following 8 years. Walking was found to reduce the risk of strokes.
- Lower your blood sugar: Walking and other forms of exercise can lower your blood sugar. As you walk, your muscles use glucose (blood sugar) for fuel. Having a high body fat percentage is associated with higher blood sugar, and walking can help you burn fat and lose weight.
- Improve overall diabetic health: Researchers studied post-menopausal diabetic women who walked 1 hour per day, 5 days a week for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, results showed that the diabetic women had increased VO2max (a measure of lung capacity), lower BMI, reduced body fat in the upper body and around the waist, lower fasting blood glucose (HbA1c), and lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.|
- Decrease insulin resistance: Researchers in Japan studied men with a BMI ≥ 25 who walked daily for a year. The result indicated that walking reduced both insulin resistance and visceral fat.
People with Arthritis
- Increase strength and flexibility: Walking increases strength and flexibility and can help to lubricate and loosen joints. Stopping exercise altogether can make your joints stiff and painful, which can make it harder to start walking again.
- Decrease arthritis pain: Researchers studied the effects of walking on people with osteoarthritis in their knees. After taking part in an 8-week walking program, the arthritic patients showed a 27% decrease in pain and could walk 18.4% farther than when they started. They also demonstrated a 39% improvement in the functional status of their knees.
- Maintain cardio ability: Rheumatoid arthritis patients also benefit from walking. 120 arthritis patients who engaged in a 12-week walking and exercise program reported significant improvements in their aerobic capacities, how fast they could walk 50 feet, improved depression and anxiety symptoms, and increased physical activity.
Walking provides a plethora of mental, physical, and social benefits. Possibly the biggest bonus for embarking on a walking regimen is that you can start no matter what level you’re at. Simply start small and build up your endurance as you see fit.
The more you walk, the better you’ll feel. Even the small act of simply walking around the block – doing what you said you were going to do – is enough to fill you with confidence and satisfaction that’ll last you all day long.
Are you ready to start feeling great? Go walk!
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