The Health Benefits of a Daily Walk
Walking is one of the easiest ways to maintain good health. It doesn’t require a gym membership, personal trainer, or any special equipment.
Simply lace up your tennis shoes and walk out your front door. You can even bring your friends, family, or favorite podcast along. Not only can walking be made enjoyable, but it also improves your physical health and clears your mind from everyday stress and anxiety.
Not convinced yet? Let’s take a look at nine more health benefits of a daily walking routine.
Nine Benefits of Walking
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest healthy adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running, weekly. Here’s why.
1. Prevents Heart Disease
The heart is the most important muscle in our body, but much like other muscles, its strength relies on regular exercise. Walking is a simple yet effective way to keep your heart strong.
Research shows walking for 30 minutes a day five times a week can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease by 19 percent. Walking also minimizes cardiac disease risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Sticking to a regular routine to build your physical health is important because the longer, faster, and more often you walk, the further these risks are reduced.
2. Helps Control Type Two Diabetes
During exercise, muscles energize by absorbing glucose from the bloodstream. This promotes regular blood sugar levels and is especially beneficial to those with type two diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, people with type two diabetes should set a walking goal of 30 minutes a day for five days a week. Out of these 30 minutes, walkers should spend at least 20 walking at a brisk pace (100 steps per minute).
3. Boosts Mood
Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain. Many medical professionals believe increased circulation has a positive impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis—components of the brain responsible for regulating our mood, emotions, and reaction to stress.
Studies have shown 30 minutes of brisk walking at least three times a week can significantly diminish feelings of anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, and negative moods while improving self-esteem.
4. Enhances Cognitive Function
The American Psychology Association completed four experiments to measure walking’s influence on the creative thought process. Participants attempted to generate new ideas while sitting, walking on a treadmill, sitting after walking on a treadmill, and walking outside.
In every scenario, walking improved creative output, with walking outside yielding the best results.
5. Encourages Weight Loss
In the United States, middle-aged adults gain an average of 2.2 pounds per year. A regular walking routine will prevent such weight gain. However, weight loss is only possible if you burn more calories than you eat or drink in a day. Therefore, you cannot neglect your diet.
Additionally, your walking pace, walking distance, and body weight play a role in how many calories you burn while walking. Luckily, there are a couple of ways to track calories. For instance, a fitness app or pedometer can record your steps, distance, calories burnt, and even weekly progress.
6. Reduces Joint and Muscle Pain
Moderate forms of exercise, like walking, swimming, or cycling, have proven particularly beneficial to people with chronic muscle and joint pain. These aerobic activities are low-impact but increase blood flow to warm tight muscles and improve range of motion. Increased blood flow can also heal joint pain by delivering nutrients necessary to recovery.
Additionally, walking strengthens leg and abdominal muscles, allowing them to bear more weight than your joints. Regular physical activity also releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins activate receptors in the brain that diminish our recognition of pain.
7. Supports Immune System
The British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a study tracking 1,002 adults with varying activity levels during flu season.
Researchers found participants who practiced moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking 30 to 45 minutes five times a week, were 43 percent less likely to get the flu or an upper respiratory infection than sedentary adults. Additionally, active adults who did get sick experienced much milder symptoms.
8. Increases Energy Levels
Walking boosts energy levels, even in those with health conditions associated with fatigue, like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
During aerobic exercise, your heart and lungs work harder to provide your moving muscles with more oxygen. This builds your endurance and stamina, providing you with more energy throughout the day. As mentioned earlier, exercise releases endorphins that fight pain. These endorphins relieve stress and increase energy as well.
9. Improves Sleep
Moderate physical activity has proven beneficial to sleep. The Sleep Medicine Journal published a study examining adults that sleep less than 6.5 hours a night. After six weeks of moderately-intense exercise, the participants reported sleeping 75 minutes longer, less daytime sleepiness, and improvement in mood.
Researchers are not sure how exercise enhances sleep quality, but believe its ability to reduce stress and anxiety calms our mind before bed, allowing us to fall asleep faster.
Best Walking Practices
You will want to walk at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week to reap the above benefits. However, if you are a new walker, we suggest starting slow. For instance, rather than walking for 30 minutes straight, consider three 10-minute walks a day. You can even walk for five minutes a session and slowly increase your time each day until you reach 30 minutes.
Beginners should also keep a slow pace (80 steps per minute). Once you are comfortable, begin walking at a moderate pace (100 steps per minute) and eventually a fast pace (120 steps per minute). If you do not want to count your steps, consider using a fitness app, or investing in a fitness tracker, such as a watch or pedometer.
Maintaining an appropriate pace for your particular fitness level is difficult, but can prevent injury. Proper technique will ensure your strides are more beneficial than harmful. Let’s go over what an effective walking routine looks like.
- Walk at a slower pace than usual for at least five minutes to warm up, loosen, and prepare your muscles for aerobic activity.
- Practice proper posture. Keep your chin up and eyes fixed in the distance. Relax your shoulders, but keep them square and pulled back while your torso remains erect.
- Engage your abdominal muscles. Slightly tightening these muscles protects your spine from the impact of each step.
- Practice slow and controlled breathing. If you begin breathing heavily, you may be walking too fast. Prevent overexertion by humming or talking to a friend during your walk.
- Land on your heel and roll off your toes. This will shorten your stride and maintain an appropriate pace.
- Keep your arms near your torso and bent at the elbow with your hands relaxed. Lightly swing your arms, but do not allow your hands to cross the midline of your body. This will remove stress from your shoulder and elbow joints and burn more calories.
- Stretch after your walk to increase blood flow to your muscles and prevent soreness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Walking and running provide similar benefits, such as increased heart health, improved moods, better sleep, and weight loss. However, running requires a higher level of energy and burns more calories. Running is not for everyone, though. For instance, if you are new to exercise begin walking until you are strong enough to run. Additionally, running exerts more pressure on the bones and joints, proving troublesome for people with joint pain.
Walking for at least 150 minutes a week carries extensive benefits and is enough to preserve overall health. When paired with a healthy diet, walking can lead to weight loss as well. However, you must burn more calories than you eat in a day to lose weight. As mentioned before, a fitness app can help you count calories.
Walking is a low-impact exercise so it is unlikely you will seriously injure yourself, but too much walking can result in discomfort and prolonged recovery time. If you are experiencing joint pain, foot pain, or extensive soreness, you are probably overexerting yourself. Lack of motivation is another sign of too much walking. If your last walk was so tiring you don’t want to do it again, consider reducing your distance and speed next time.
Walking will relieve knee pain. The aerobic exercise increases circulation which delivers more nutrient-rich blood to damaged joints and facilitates healing. Walking also reduces painful pressure on the knees by strengthening the supporting leg muscles.
You can weave walking into your daily routines. If you live close enough, consider walking to work or school. If your workplace or school is too far, walk to a close public transit instead. When you arrive at work or school, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator. You can also walk to lunch or use other break times to get in a few extra steps.
Walking is often regarded as insufficient because it requires less effort than vigorous activities, like running. However, you don’t have to run to reap the benefits of aerobic exercise. Walking can prevent cardiac-related diseases, improve heart health, manage medical conditions, reduce anxiety and stress, promote deeper sleep, strengthen the immune system, heighten creativity, relieve pain, and boost energy.
If you are new to exercising, have a health condition making it difficult to exercise, or simply dislike running, we suggest a 30-minute walk each day of the week. A half hour is enough to significantly improve your physical and mental health.
And don’t forget to take some water with you. Adults need more than 10 cups of water in a day, and drinking at least every 15 minutes as you walk will help keep you in peak condition.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.