Underrated as an effective form of exercise, the benefits of walking are numerous. Some of the healthiest folks on earth including centenarians (people who live to be 100 years or older) and people that live in Blue Zones do nothing more than walk frequently for physical activity.
Whether walking serves as a regimented movement or an extraordinarily healthy leisure activity, taking a daily walk confers numerous health benefits.
The Benefits of Walking
Walking for health is truly as simple as taking a 30-minute walk or three, 10 minute walks, though benefit maximizes at the 45 to 60-minute mark. For additional mental health advantage, complete with a friend, group, or pup!
1. Reduces Risk of Chronic Diseases
Regularly walking at a moderate intensity to a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes most days of the week can reduce the risk of many of the most prevalent chronic diseases. These include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, stroke, obesity, and most of all, cardiovascular disease.
In fact, one of the most notable studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine determined those who meet the physical activity guidelines by simply walking had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease compared to those who did not walk frequently.
2. Lowers Blood Pressure
Briefly mentioned right above, regular walking can have profound effects on reducing blood pressure, even despite any weight loss. Although many people struggle with overweight/obesity and high blood pressure, some do not and invariably lean on medication to manage high blood pressure.
However, consistent walking can reduce blood pressure by 11 points according to researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado and University of Tennessee.
3. Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight Range
Along with helping to manage internal bodily functions, walking can help people maintain a healthy weight range for their bodies. It works on both ends, particularly helping to prevent weight gain and contributing to weight loss if needed.
However, because the body relies on efficiency, one will eventually need to optimize their walking workouts through various ways (discussed below).
4. Delays Onset of Varicose Veins
A lesser-known benefit, The Vein Treatment Center in New York City exclaims walking is a proven way to prevent these painful veins from developing. They back their claim by mentioning that walking strengthens venous systems and circulatory sections in the calf and foot, boosting healthy blood flow and preserving leg muscle.
Even if someone is predisposed to varicose/spider veins, walking can delay the onset and for those who already suffer from them, walking can ease swelling and restlessness in the legs.
5. Improves Digestion
Higher intensity activity is not recommended shortly after eating, but walking is an excellent before or after meal activity as it utilizes core and abdominal muscles, encouraging movement in the GI system.
This can either prime the body for subsequent digestion or help facilitate the absorption of consumed nutrients. It also helps people stay regular and improve bowel movements.
6. Boosts Mood
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes and a walk a day keeps the mental blues away, so should be added! Research actually shows that consistent walking modified the nervous system.
Specifically, reducing stress so vehemently people experience a decrease in anger, hostility, and mood swings and an increased ability to respond to negative triggers and stressors. Sometimes, mental health management really is this simple.
7. Leads to Better Sleep
Regular exercise, especially in the form of walking helps naturally regulate circadian rhythm and produce adequate melatonin (without needing the supplement form). Not only this, but walking can also help reduce pain and stress, which are known to cause disturbances in sleep.
Walking more and sleeping more is a powerful partnership for health and longevity.
8. Reduces Stress
Piggybacking off the benefit of a better mood, regular walking reduces the stress response. This allows for better work-life balance, enhanced creativity, enhanced emotional intelligence, and a generally improved attitude.
Instead of reaching for the dynamic duo of wine and chocolate to ease the burden of stress, try taking a walk and reap double the health benefits.
9. Boosts Immunity
Interestingly, walking is unique in that it can boost the immune system. Interestingly, high-intensity workouts and long endurance cardio can actually decrease immune function due to the toll it takes on the body.
Some acute stress, such as a brisk walk, confers the opposite effect. This can be especially helpful for adults struggling with rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), although it can certainly benefit nearly all populations.
10. Alleviates Joint Pain
Another counterintuitive health claim, moving joints regularly actually prevent pain and swelling. Too much rest can leave joints feeling stiff and achy, whereas regular, gentle movement like walking helps them remain mobile and lubricated.
Furthermore, it enhances overall mobility and can help strengthen muscles surrounding major joints. It looks like walking equals jovial joints!
How to Start Walking
Beginning is always the hardest part of creating new habits and walking is no different. But the good news is that once started, it quickly becomes easier and often more enjoyable. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests the benefits of walking every day are so positive that the habit becomes desired rather than dreaded.
Start walking for 10 minutes a day and increase by 5 to 10 more minutes each week up to 30 to 60 minutes per day to create a sustainable habit while minimizing the risk of injury and burnout.
Additional ways to make walking a lasting lifestyle habit include:
• Increase accountability by walking with a group or friend
• Walk around the same time every day
• Set out shoes and walking clothes the night before
• Schedule walking into a calendar or planner
• Loosen up muscles beforehand with dynamic stretching for 3-5 minutes
• Invest in tailored, comfortable walking shoes
• Remind yourself of your "why" or set intentions before setting out
• Set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals
• Recruit a trainer to create an individualized walking program
• Take at least one rest day a week
Put one foot in front of the other and do not look back!
Tips to Optimize Walking Workouts
Walking for any amount of time at any pace poses health benefits, but there are certainly ways to optimize walking workouts that further boost these benefits.
Implement Heart Rate Zones
Calculating and monitoring heart rate during a walking workout can help keep a steady pace and/or ensure you remain in a fat-burning or certain training state.
Very common in HIIT and circuit workouts, walking in slower and quicker bursts or intervals can enhance calorie burn long after the workout concludes, known as exercise post oxygen consumption (EPOC). This closely relates to the above heart zone training tip, as changing intensity or heart rates complements fat burn.
Walking uphill or at an incline on a treadmill is another way to burn more calories and enter a fat-burning zone. Because incline walking recruits more glute muscles, the biggest muscle group within the human body, intensity is heightened. This also means one could walk for less time while still achieving the health benefits of a regular timed walk.
Try Different Terrains
Take to the trails to challenge different leg muscles and produce an elevated mind-muscle connection, which is thought to inherently burn more calories as well. Thus, hiking is not only an outstanding physical workout but a mental one as well.
Enjoy Alongside a Friend or Group
Lastly, enjoying a walking workout with friends or workout buddies intrinsically enhances the workout and makes one more likely to stay accountable and motivated. Plus, exercising in multiples is shown to lead to better, stronger relationships, which in turn, positively affects mental and emotional health.
Benefits of Walking: What to Walk Away With
The answer to "Is walking good for you?" is a resounding "YES!" Known to contribute many health benefits like reduced risk of chronic disease, reduced stress, better sleep, and so much more, daily walking is amongst the top-recommended healthy lifestyle practices.
To begin a walking program, start small with 5 to 15 minutes depending on fitness level and increase by 5 to 10 minutes weekly with the goal of increasing to 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. To further optimize a walking workout, consider utilizing intervals or incline walking among others.