Do you know the benefits of walking? A daily walk can help you with so many aspects of your health. Keep reading to learn more…
Benefits of Walking: Keep Active
America has a big problem. Only 48% of adults get enough aerobic activity to improve their health(1). Adults need about 150 minutes per week of aerobic physical activity(2). Americans live sedentary lives. We drive to work. Then we sit at work for 9 hours. Then we drive home. Then we eat dinner. Then we sit on the couch and watch television. The problem with our sedentary lives is that it leads to obesity.
- Over 70 million adults in U.S. are obese (35 million men and 35 million women)
- 99 million are overweight (45 million women and 54 million men)
- NHANES 2016 statistics showed that about 39.6% of American adults were obese.(4)
We need to stop this from happening. Exercise doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Some people believe that you only have health benefits if you exercise intensely. That’s simply not true. You don’t have to run marathons or do Crossfit in order to receive health benefits. The benefits of walking 30 minutes a day are:
- Decreased Chance of Heart Disease
- Reduced Joint Pain
- Healthy immune system
- Improved Brain Function
- Lose Weight(3)
In addition to those benefits, walking is often the most convenient exercise. You can just put on a pair of sneakers and go. “Walking is the most studied form of exercising, 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, M.D., a family physician and sports medicine doctor with Kaiser Permanente.(5) In addition, walking is the exercise with the fewest reported injuries.
Benefits of Walking: Cardiovascular Benefits
The most effective way to improve your cardiovascular health is by walking. Walking is an efficient way to increase physical activity in your life because it can be tolerated by most age and fitness groups. Walking can improve heart health by decreasing the following health conditions:
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Metabolic Syndrome
This includes people who have already been diagnosed with health conditions. Walking will help improve the cardiovascular health of preexisting conditions. Now that you understand how good walking is for your heart, we will move on to how it helps reduce joint pain.
Reduced Joint Pain
Good news. Contrary to popular belief, exercise actually reduces joint pain. Walking strengthens muscles around the joints, maintains bone strength, and increases your energy throughout the day. This is important to know because many people think that they can’t exercise because of joint pain. However, being sedentary weakens those supporting muscles, and creates more stress on your joints.
A regular program of walking can reduce stiffness and inflammation. It won’t make most chronic joint conditions worse. Walking is the preferred exercise by people with arthritis, and can help you improve your arthritis symptoms. It also increases walking speed, and quality of life, according to the CDC.(5)
However, if you’re inactive now, you should start slow and add on walking time gradually. For example, if you can walk for 15 minutes after dinner this week, aim to walk for 20 minutes next week. You can build confidence and endurance this way. Then you will be less likely to injure yourself. Trying to do too much too soon, can lead to pain or injury. Then you will be moving backwards instead of forward in your health. Now let’s discuss how walking helps keep your immune system healthy.
Video on Walking Benefits
Healthy Immune System
Walking can even help you stay healthy during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. Also, if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.(6)
“If you look at all the lifestyle factors that decrease the number of days you suffer from common cold, being a physically active and fit person is the most important,” says David Nieman, a professor of public health and director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University.(8)
The connection between walking routines and resistance to illness has to do with the effect of aerobic exercise on the body’s immune system. When you exercise, it releases antibodies and white blood cells that help kill invading organisms. They also help the body kill tumors and viruses. These cells work to increase your body’s defenses. In addition, when we exercise, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are lowered. This will boost the immune system and help our bodies to fend off illness.
Improved Brain Function
Physical exercise increases memory and thinking. This is because of how exercise reduces insulin resistance, reduces inflammation, and stimulates the release of growth factors. Growth factors are chemicals in the brain that influence the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and survival of new brain cells.
Walking also improves mood and sleep. It reduces stress and anxiety as well. This is beneficial because these issues cause or contribute to cognitive issues.
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Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. (9)
Now we will discuss how walking benefits weight loss. Walking benefits weight loss in many ways. Here are just a few benefits:
- Burns Calories
- Preserve Lean Muscle
- Burns Belly Fat
- Improves Your Mood
One study measured the number of calories burned by non-athletes who walked at a brisk pace of 3.2 miles (5 km) per hour or ran at a pace of 6 mph for about a mile. It found those who walked at a brisk pace burned an average of 90 calories per mile.(10) Running burned significantly more calories, it only burned around 23 more calories per mile. So both forms of exercise contributed significantly to the number of calories burned.(10)
Unfortunately, when people lose weight, they often lose some muscle as well as body fat. However, physical exercise helps to preserve muscle tone while you lose weight. This is why it is best to exercise and follow a balanced diet when losing weight.
The most effective way to lose belly fat is to participate in a regular aerobic exercise such as walking. Several studies have shown success in the is area. One study found that people on a calorie-controlled diet who walked for one hour five times per week for 12 weeks lost an extra 1.5 inches (3.7 cm) off their waistlines and 1.3% more body fat, compared to those who followed the diet alone.(11)
Walking has been linked to a decrease in anxiety, depression, and stress. The decrease occurs because it makes your brain more sensitive to the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine. These are the “feel good” hormones that relieve feelings of depression and make you feel happy.
What to Do
Now that you know how beneficial walking is for your body, we will discuss the proper technique for walking. Turning your normal walk into a fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements. Here are some pointers on the best walking technique:
- Head is Up and Facing Forward
- Neck, Shoulders and Back are Relaxed
- Arms should be Swinging, Elbows Slightly Bent
- Abdominals are Slightly Engaged and Your Back is Straight
- Walk Smoothly, Rolling Foot from Heel to Toe
Now that you have the right technique, let’s discuss how to plan out your fitness routine:
- Get the right gear. Choose shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock. Wear comfortable clothes and gear appropriate for various types of weather. If you walk outdoors when it’s dark, wear bright colors or reflective tape for visibility.
- Choose your course carefully. If you’ll be walking outdoors, avoid paths with cracked sidewalks, potholes, low-hanging limbs or uneven turf. If the weather isn’t appropriate for walking, consider walking in a shopping mall that offers open times for walkers.
- Warm up. Walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for exercise.
- Cool down. At the end of your walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to help your muscles cool down.
- Stretch. After you cool down, gently stretch your muscles. If you’d rather stretch before you walk, remember to warm up first.(7)
Now that you know many benefits of walking, I hope you have your shoes on. It’s time to reverse America’s obesity problem. All it takes is 30 minutes a day. You can do it.
- Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Ogden CL, Johnson CL: Prevalence and trends in obesity among U.S. adults, 1999–2000. JAMA 288:1723–1727, 2002
- National Institutes of Health: Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults—The Evidence Report. Obes Res 6 (Suppl. 2):51S– 209S, 1998
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016). Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health.
- Experimental Biology 2017. “How walking benefits the brain: Researchers show that foot’s impact helps control, increase the amount of blood sent to the brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 April 2017.