You might think you understand the benefits of walking: it’s low impact exercise, and it’s obviously better than just sitting in a chair all day. But some people believe that walking barely counts as exercise, and that it just can’t compete with high impact forms of exercise like running or biking. However, not all of us have the will or the ability to become long-distance runners. So we wanted to know: what are the real benefits of walking? And will starting a walking program actually have an impact on our health and fitness?
Well, we combed through the medical journals so you didn’t have to, and the results are in: walking is one of the best forms of exercise when it comes to health, fitness, and general well-being. That’s right—just a simple walk at a reasonable pace can have an incredible impact on your life. We’ve outlined the amazing benefits of walking and then given you an action plan for starting your own walking program. So grab a pedometer and put on some comfortable walking shoes, and let’s get started!
Walking for Health
There have been a ton of studies done on the health benefits of walking, and they’ve been overwhelming positive. Ready for some highlights?
According to a 2013 study in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, walking can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk for diabetes just as well as running. That means that you can reduce your risk of heart disease simply by walking every day!
Walking can also put off weight gain, as reported by a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. They found that people who walked to work instead of driving gained less weight over four years. Is work too far away to reasonably walk? Try switching out a different driving activity: try walking to the grocery store if you only need to pick up a few items or park farther away from your workplace to get a few more blocks of movement.
Great news: walking can actually reduce the risk of breast cancer. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who engaged in just two hours of brisk walking per week reduced their risk of breast cancer by 18%. We did the math, and that’s less than 20 minutes a day!
Finally, according to Calcified Tissue International, walking increases bone density. Bones are strengthened with gravity and pressure, and therefore regular walking can reduce the risk of hip fractures and other types of fractures. Plus, the Centers for Disease Control confirms that walking builds up muscle strength, which can help prevent falls and other issues that come from weak muscles.
Sounds great, right? But we’re not done quite yet! Walking also benefits your emotional and mental health.
Walking for Mental Health
The National Institute of Health discovered two amazing findings about walking. First, they found that outdoor walking improved memory in older adults; and then in another study, they found that walking actually increases the size of hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that is in charge of memory. That’s right—walking can make your brain bigger. We couldn’t even make that up if we tried.
The National Sleep Foundation discovered that people who exercise regularly reported that they sleep better than those who do not exercise. Even a 10 minute walk every day can help you have a good night’s sleep!
Feel like you’re losing energy during the day? The American Diabetes Association ran a study that found walking for just 15 minutes after every meal can significantly improve your energy throughout the entire day. No more drinking gallons of coffee while trying to stay awake!
Finally—and to us, most importantly—the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that daily walking makes you happier. After four weeks of walking, researchers found that levels of anger and hostility decreased in the walking group. Now that’s something to smile about!
So the results are in, and now you know: walking has more advantages than we could even list in this article. Want to reap the benefits for yourself? Luckily, starting a walking program is easy!
How to Start a Walking Program
Popular thought says that we’re supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day, but even just taking a few extra minutes to walk each day is much more important than hitting some number. A more important goal is to try and increase the number of steps taken by any number—if you usually take 2,000 steps, try to increase it to 2,500! To get an idea of how much you already walk, invest in a pedometer. It will be a great motivation for increasing or maintaining your number of steps. And don’t forget comfortable walking shoes; they should be cushioned and have good arch support to keep feet healthy.
Now that you have the equipment, it’s important to start slow: while walking is a low impact exercise, you don’t want to put unnecessary stress on your body. If you’re just starting out a walking program, try a piece of exercise equipment like the Freedom Cycle. It allows you to sit in a favorite chair and cycle without putting stress on joints. It’s a great way to build endurance, and can also be used alone as an exercise program if you have an injury, arthritis, or other disability that prevents longer walks.
Once you’ve built some endurance, feel free to start walking outside! Even strolling around the block one or two times is a great start. On your lunch break at work, walk a few laps around the parking lot. While shopping, park at the very back of the lot. There are lots of little ways to start adding walking to your daily routine. As you start feeling stronger and more confident, start setting aside a chunk of time every day for a walk. Start with ten minutes, and as time goes on, try to spend more time walking. The Surgeon General recommends that everyone should get at least thirty minutes of exercise per day. Once you feel strong enough, try walking thirty minutes at once, or break those thirty minutes into three ten-minute chunks or two fifteen-minute chunks over the day! And, as always, check with your doctor if you have concerns about your health or more questions about the best way to start exercising. Happy walking!