Walking is a form of exercise that can significantly improve your physical and mental health. Not only can it extend your life and prevent disease, but it can also boost your energy and mood.Walking can be as good as a workout, if not better, than running,” says Dr. Matt Tanneberg, CSCS, a sports Chiropractor and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist in Phoenix, Arizona who works with elite athletes.
Walking can offer numerous health benefits to people of all ages and fitness levels. It may also help prevent certain diseases and even prolong your life. “You hear of people ‘plateauing’ when they continue to do the same workout routine and stop seeing results. I see patients all the time that plateau from running, they will run the same distance, speed and time, day in and day out. You need to constantly be switching up your exercise routine in order to get the maximum benefit for your health.
Walking is free to do and easy to fit into your daily routine. All you need to start walking is a sturdy pair of walking shoes.
Getting exercise through walking is as easy as lacing up your sneakers and hitting the pavement or trail. Doing so is a safe way to get a workout without needing a gym, and it can boost your mental and physical health in several important ways.
Let’s set the record straight: Running may get the glory, but walking can hold its own when it comes to health and fitness benefits. In fact, not only is walking a more accessible form of exercise than running, it’s also an Olympic sport.
One of the most powerful ways to maintain a healthy weight, stay strong, and live longer is so shockingly simple, even a toddler can do it. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other. “Walking has always been my main source of cardio, and except for when I was pregnant, I’ve been the same weight my entire life!” says fitness expert Denise Austin.
Walking can be a robust workout or, well, a walk in the park, depending on your mood and fitness level. Better yet? It doesn’t require you to learn any new skills.
“Walking is an excellent workout,” says Rachel MacPherson, an ACE certified personal trainer. “Humans have evolved to walk consistently every day. It’s an integral part of our nature and was crucial for our survival.”
“Walking is the most studied form of exercise, and multiple studies have proven that it’s the best thing we can do to improve our overall health, and increase our longevity and functional years,” says Robert Sallis, MD, a family physician and sports medicine doctor with Kaiser Permanente.
Walking is more than just a way to get around. Walking at any speed is a way to improve your fitness, burn calories, and reduce the health risks of inactivity. Walking the dog, walking in the park, or simply walking around your neighborhood at an easy pace keeps you active and healthy.
You get even more benefits for health, fitness and weight loss by walking at a brisk walking pace that puts you into the moderate-intensity exercise zone. You can learn to walk faster by using the right posture, arm motion, and stride. Experts recommend a brisk walk for 30 minutes per day, five or more days per week to reduce health risks.
Biggest Benefits of Walking
Walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking is free and doesn’t require any special equipment or training.
Walking is low impact, requires minimal equipment, can be done at any time of day and can be performed at your own pace. You can get out and walk without worrying about the risks associated with some more vigorous forms of exercise. Walking is also a great form of physical activity for people who are overweight, elderly, or who haven’t exercised in a long time.
Walking for fun and fitness isn’t limited to strolling by yourself around local neighbourhood streets. There are various clubs, venues and strategies you can use to make walking an enjoyable and social part of your lifestyle.
Walking Will Improve Your Mood
A glass of wine or a square (or three) of dark chocolate can blunt the edge of a rough day—but going for a walk is a zero-calorie strategy that offers the same perk, says Dr. Jampolis.
“Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you’ll experience a decrease in anger and hostility,” she says, especially when you’re going for a stroll through some greenery or soaking in a bit of sunlight. This can be particularly helpful during the colder months, when seasonal depression spikes.
Finally, when you make your walks social—you stride with, say, your partner, a neighbor, or a good friend—that interaction helps you feel connected, says Dr. Jampolis, which can make you feel happier.
It Burns Plenty of Calories and Lose Weight
Your actual calorie burn will depend on how fast and how far you walk (and where), along with your weight. Walking at a brisk pace burns about 150 calories in 30 minutes (for a 175-pound person).
Walking increases your heart rate, causing you to expend energy and burn calories just like other forms of physical activity such as running, swimming, or cycling. How many calories you burn depends on how fast you walk, for how long, the terrain, and your weight.
A 2020 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that participants burned an average of 89 calories walking 1,600 meters (about 1 mile). That was only around 20% less than the 113 calories other participants burned running the same distance.
And across the results of nine different walking studies in this 2008 review published in the Annals of Family Medicine, participants lost an average of 0.05 kilograms (0.1 pounds) per week as a result of increasing their step count by between 1,827 and 4,556 steps per day. Overall, that translated to a
of about 5 pounds a year on average across all studies.
Lower Body Mass Index (BMI)
A study from the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, published in 2017 in the International Journal of Obesity confirms that those who walk more and sit less have lower BMIs, which is one indicator of obesity. In the study, those who took 15,000 or more steps per day tended to have BMIs in the normal, healthy range.
The American College of Sports Medicine offers recommendations for how much time people who are overweight or
should dedicate to physical activity each week to prevent and promote weight loss. It goes as follows:
- Prevention of weight gain: 150 to 250 minutes per week — that’s 30 to 50 minutes five times per week.
- Promote clinically significant weight loss: 225 to 420 minutes per week — that’s 45 to 84 minutes five times per week.
- Prevention of weight gain after weight loss: 200 to 300 minutes per week — that’s 40 to 60 minutes five times per week.
Can Help Lower Your Blood Sugar
Taking a short walk after eating may help lower your blood sugar.
A small study found that taking a 15-minute walk three times a day (after breakfast, lunch, and dinner) improved blood sugar levels more than taking a 45-minute walk at another point during the day.
More research is needed to confirm these findings, though.
Consider making a post-meal walk a regular part of your routine. It can also help you fit exercise in throughout the day.
Improve Your Breath
When walking, your breathing rate increases, causing oxygen to travel faster through bloodstream, helping to eliminate waste products and improve your energy level and the ability to heal.
Walking Can Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease
“The physical benefits of walking are well documented,” says Scott Danberg, director of fitness at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami.
The American Diabetes Association recommends walking to lower blood sugar levels and your overall risk for diabetes. Researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado and the University of Tennessee found that regular walking lowered blood pressure by as much as 11 points and may reduce the risk of stroke by up to 40%.
One of the most cited studies on walking and health, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that those who walked enough to meet physical activity guidelines had a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not walk regularly.
For disease prevention, longer walks are key. Stanten recommends doing a one hour-long walk at least once or twice a week.
It’ll Strengthen Your Legs
Want stronger, more toned legs? Start by walking — then pick up the pace or find a hilly route to boost the strength-building benefits.
Better Memory and Cognitive Function
A 2021 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that when adults 55 or older with mild cognitive impairment were assigned to either stretching and toning exercises or to aerobic training—mostly walking—both groups showed some improvement on cognitive tests. But when compared with the stretching and toning group, the group that walked for fitness improved aerobic fitness more, had decreased stiffness in neck arteries, and showed increased blood flow to the brain in ways that researchers think could provide more cognitive benefits in the long term.
A clinical trial of older adults in Japan published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2015 found that after 12 weeks, men and women in a prescribed daily walking exercise group had significantly greater improvements in memory and executive function (the ability to pay focused attention, to switch among various tasks, and to hold multiple items in working memory) compared with those in a control group who were told just to carry on with their usual daily routine.
And a study of 299 adults, published in the journal Neurology in 2010, found that walking was associated with a greater volume of gray matter in the brain, a measure of brain health.
Increase Energy Levels
Walking increases blood flow around the body so that more blood — containing oxygen and nutrients for fuel — can reach the large muscles in the legs as well as the brain. This is what makes you feel energized, according to Pete McCall CSCS, exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and author.
In addition, walking and other types of physical exercise have been shown to increase the amount of a type of protein found in the brain, called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF may be responsible for how well you can think, learn, and memorize — amongst other functions in the brain.
“There is a correlation between a brisk walk and elevated levels of BDNF, which can help improve overall cognition, or thought processing,” says McCall.
A 2008 study published in the Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic journal found that previously sedentary adults reported feeling more energetic and less fatigued after just 20 minutes of low to moderate aerobic exercise — including walking — for three days a week over a six week period.
And this 2017 study conducted on sleep deprived women aged 18 to 23, published in the journal of Physiology & Behavior, found that walking up and down the stairs for just 10 minutes at a low to moderate intensity was more energizing than consuming 50mg of caffeine, or about half a cup of coffee.
Eases Joint Pain
Walking can help protect the joints, including your knees and hips. That’s because it helps lubricate and strengthen the muscles that support the joints.
Walking may also provide benefits for people living with arthritis, such as reducing pain. And walking 5 to 6 miles a week may also help prevent arthritis.
Shore Up Your Bones
Walking can stop the loss of bone mass for those with osteoporosis, according to Michael A. Schwartz, MD, of Plancher Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in New York. In fact, one study of post-menopausal women found that 30 minutes of walking each day reduced their risk of hip fractures by 40%.
It Can Even Delay The Onset of Varicose Veins
As you age, your risk of varicose veins increases. However, walking is a proven way to prevent them from developing, says Luis Navarro, M.D., founder and director of The Vein Treatment Center in New York City.
“The venous system includes a circulatory section known as ‘the second heart,’ which is formed by muscles, veins, and valves located in our calf and foot,” he explains. “This system works to push blood back up to the heart and lungs—and walking strengthens this secondary circulatory system by strengthening and preserving leg muscle, which boosts healthy blood flow.”
If you already suffer from varicose veins, daily walking can help ease related swelling and restlessness in your legs, says Dr. Navarro. “Also, if you are genetically predisposed to have varicose and/or spider veins, walking daily can help delay the onset.”
Boost Immune System
Walking briskly and regularly can also help protect you from getting a cold, the flu, or other immune-related illnesses.
That’s because physical exercise like walking increases the amount of white blood cells circulating in your blood. These cells fight infection and other diseases as part of the body’s immune system.
A 2013 study of 800 young adults over six years published in the World Journal of Experimental Medicine showed that white blood cell count increased significantly after just five minutes of exercise.
And this 2005 study published the American College of Sports Medicine’s flagship journal measured the white blood cell count of 15 adults immediately after a 30 minute walk as well as after sitting down for the same amount of time. It also found a significant increase in white blood cells.
Walking has also been linked to a lower number of sick days taken. A 2011 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine tracked 1000 adults during flu season. Those who walked at a moderate pace for 30 to 45 minutes a day had 43% fewer sick days and fewer upper respiratory tract infections overall.
Their symptoms were also less severe if they did get sick. That was compared to adults in the study who were sedentary.
Your Digestion Will Improve by Walking More
If you currently praise coffee for keeping your digestive system going strong, get ready to start thanking your morning walk instead. That’s because a regular walking routine can greatly improve your bowel movements, says Tara Alaichamy, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “One of the very first things an abdominal surgery patient is required to do is to walk because it utilizes core and abdominal muscles, encouraging movement in our GI system,” she says.
Walking may help clear your head and help you think creatively.
A study that included four experiments compared people trying to think of new ideas while they were walking or sitting. Researchers found participants did better while walking, particularly while walking outdoors.
The researchers concluded that walking opens up a free flow of ideas and is a simple way to increase creativity and get physical activity at the same time.
Try to initiate a walking meeting with your colleagues the next time you’re stuck on a problem at work.
Extend Life Expectancy
Walking has also been linked to a decreased risk of mortality, or a longer life expectancy. And the longer and faster you walk, the more it increases your life expectancy.
This 2011 study published by the British Medical Association followed 27,738 participants aged 40 to 79 years for a 13 year period and found that participants who walked for more than one hour a day had a longer life expectancy than participants who walked for less than one hour a day.
Following 50,225 walkers over 14 years, another 2018 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the association of walking at a faster pace with factors like overall causes of death, cardiovascular disease, and death from cancer.
The researchers found that the quicker you walk, the lower your risk of overall death. For example, walking at an average pace resulted in a 20% reduced risk of overall death when compared to walking at a slow pace. And walking at a brisk or fast pace — at least 4 miles per hour — reduced the risk by 24% compared to walking at a slow pace.
Walking Your Steps to Health
Walking on streets and trails is superb for health. And so is walking up stairs. Coaches, cardiologists, and housewives have long been in on the secret of stairs. Many football coaches “ask” their players to charge up flight after flight of stadium steps to get in shape, and other competitive athletes put gymnasium stairwells to similar use. In the days before stress testing held sway, doctors would often walk up stairs with their patients to check out cardiopulmonary function. Even today, cardiologists tell heart patients they are fit enough to have sex if they can walk up two or three flights comfortably, and surgeons may clear patients for lung operations if they can manage five or six flights. As for housewives, taking care of a two- or three-story home is one reason American women outlive their husbands by an average of more than five years.
What’s so special about stairs? Researchers in Canada answered the question by monitoring 17 healthy male volunteers with an average age of 64 while they walked, lifted weights, or climbed stairs. Stair climbing was the most demanding. It was twice as taxing as brisk walking on the level and 50% harder than walking up a steep incline or lifting weights. And peak exertion was attained much faster climbing stairs than walking, which is why nearly everyone huffs and puffs going upstairs, at least until the “second wind” kicks in after a few flights.
Because stairs are so taxing, only the very young at heart should attempt to charge up long flights. But at a slow, steady pace, stairs can be a health plus for the rest of us. Begin modestly with a flight or two, and then add more as you improve. Take the stairs whenever you can; if you have a long way to go, walk part way, and then switch to an elevator. Use the railing for balance and security (especially going down), and don’t try the stairs after a heavy meal or if you feel unwell.
Even at a slow pace, you’ll burn calories two to three times faster climbing stairs than walking briskly on the level. The Harvard Alumni Study found that men who average at least eight flights a day enjoy a 33% lower mortality rate than men who are sedentary — and that’s even better than the 22% lower death rate men earned by walking 1.3 miles a day.
Does walking for transportation pay off? And how! A study of 12,000 adults found that people who live in cities have a lower risk of being overweight and obese than people who live in the suburbs. In Atlanta, for example, 45% of suburban men were overweight and 23% were obese; among urbanites, however, only 37% were overweight and 13% obese. The explanation: driving vs. walking. To stay well, walk for 30 to 45 minutes nearly every day. Do it all at once or in chunks as short as five to 10 minutes. Aim for a brisk pace of three to four miles an hour, but remember that you’ll get plenty of benefit from strolling at a slower pace as long as you stick with it.
If you want to set more precise goals, aim for two to four miles a day. As a rule of thumb, urban walkers can count 12 average city blocks as one mile. Another way to keep track of your distance is to buckle a pedometer to your belt. Some just keep track of your steps, while others have bells and whistles such as timers, clocks, alarms, and bells — or at least chimes that ring out little tunes. You can get a decent pedometer for under $40. Even the best models can sometimes mistake a jiggle for a step, but a pedometer can help you keep track and can motivate you to take extra steps whenever you can. If you have an average stride length, count 2,000 steps as about a mile of walking. And if you’re counting steps, you can use another rule of thumb to estimate your intensity: 80 steps a minute indicates a leisurely pace; 100 steps a minute, a moderate to brisk pace; and 120 steps a minute, a fast pace. Even without counting, you’ll do well simply by reminding yourself to walk briskly. It’s the only direction that researchers gave to a group of 84 overweight, sedentary volunteers, yet even without athletic experience, all of them achieved heart rates in the moderate 58% to 70% of maximum range.
Walking for transportation is a good way to start any exercise program, and it’s an excellent way to protect your health. Still, many men will get extra benefit from setting aside dedicated time to walk for exercise, health, and pleasure.
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