I’ll be honest: as a lover of the endorphin rush that comes from running faster or further than you wanted to, doing more burpees than you thought possible, or feeling your heart pump through your chest in a group fitness class, sometimes the idea of “just” going for a walk used to seem a bit … underwhelming. But as I’ve learned more about the benefits of walking, and incorporated more walking into my own routine, I’ve come to realize that walking is one of the most effective and underutilized forms of exercise. Both physically and mentally, I believe walking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Read on to learn my top 7 benefits of walking!
7 Benefits of Walking
- Walking lowers blood pressure and triglycerides: There are hundreds of studies on the health benefits of walking, but this one shows that just one day (!!!) of three 10-minute daily walks, or one 30-minute daily walk, lowers blood pressure by 6-7% and lowers triglycerides by 16%. Imagine the accumulated benefits over time if you included a walk every day! This systematic review shows many of the benefits of walking for blood pressure control, and this one shows the benefits of walking for primary and secondary prevention of heart disease.
- Walking counteracts genes that predispose us to obesity: Reports from the Harvard School of Public Health show that walking for an hour a day can reduce the impact of genes that predispose some people to obesity. So, if you’ve ever blamed your weight on your genes, it’s time to get walking! You have the power to take control of your health with a simple walk! And get this – a few short walks per day is just as or more effective than a long one! This small study showed that women who went for 2, 25-minute walks in the day lost more weight than those who went for 1, 50-minute walk!
- Walking requires minimal planning or equipment: If you’re fortunate enough to have two working legs, you can walk anywhere, anytime. Aside from shoes (and even without them, if you prefer!), you need absolutely nothing. You don’t have to wait for a class to start. You don’t have to wait for the weather to be perfect. You just walk … anywhere, anytime. What a great way to eliminate excuses!
- Walking is great for joint health: Many people think that using our joints weakens them, but the opposite is true! Low-intensity movement like walking actually lubricates joints and strengthens surrounding muscles, making joint pain less likely in those who walk regularly. In fact, walking just 5-6 miles per week has been shown to be helpful in preventing arthritis, and improving arthritis symptoms in those who already have the condition. Walking has also been shown to pause bone loss in those patients with osteoporosis!
- Walking can reduce sugar cravings and keep blood sugar stable: If you’ve been my health coaching client and you’ve struggled with mindless eating or sugar cravings, I’ve almost certainly told you to go for a walk or do 20 jumping jacks when the cravings strike. Doing something physical “jolts” your brain out of the mindless eating mode, and helps you dissociate from the automatic tendency to overeat. Studies have shown that those who went for a 15-minute walk when craving chocolate ate less than half the amount of chocolate as those who didn’t walk! Walking can also be an effective way to stabilize blood sugar after meals, especially in those prone to unstable blood sugar.
- Walking boosts immune function: Walking is one of the best natural boosts for your immune system. In one study, those who walked just 20 minutes per day had 43% fewer sick days than those who were inactive. If you want to reduce your likelihood of getting sick, incorporate a daily walk!
- Walking has enormous benefits for your mind and stress levels: When I am stressed, one of the best things for me to do is go for a walk without any technology. The opportunity to connect to nature, let my mind wander, stop staring at a screen, and be truly present is one I welcome with open arms, and try to take advantage of often. A 10-minute walk can reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) and make you feel more centered and restored. Studies have shown evidence for walking reducing depression, anxiety, psychological stress, psychological well-being, subjective well-being, social isolation, and loneliness. So next time you feel overwhelmed, don’t reach for the bag of chips or bowl of ice cream, and don’t sit on the couch thinking that scrolling through Instagram will alleviate your stress … get out there and go for a walk!
A few bonus benefits of walking!
Since I originally published this blog post in 2018, I’ve come across 3 more powerful links between walking and health. Here are 3 bonus benefits of walking!
- Walking improves sleep quality: This study showed that the more steps participants took during the day, the better their sleep quality was, and the results were even more powerful for women. You can use all of these tips to improve sleep quality, but why not start with walking?
- Walking improves cognitive function and lessens risk of cognitive decline: Walking helps the body form a hormone called irisin, which has been linked to improved cognitive performance and even lessened risk of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s.
- Walking can increase longevity. This meta-analysis shows that walking for the equivalent of 150 minutes per week was linked to an 11% decrease in all-cause mortality! And the benefits increase as we age! This study of older adults with a mean age of 80 showed that those who walked at least 4 times per week for at least 15 minutes had a 40% decreased risk of mortality!
How to incorporate walking into your lifestyle
I am a big fan of walking anywhere possible. My personal rule is that if I can walk (meaning, I don’t have 50 pounds of groceries, unwieldy equipment, etc.), I do walk anywhere less than a mile away. I also do my absolute best to get in at least one walk during the middle of the day. This is not my “exercise” for the day (that happens in the morning, and sometimes it is another walk!), but rather a break for my mental and physical health. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, it pays off!
Depending on your living circumstances, this may not be possible, but if you are physically able, I suggest starting to incorporate a 10-minute walk every day. Find a time that almost always works for you. Right when you wake up, as soon as you get home from work, right after dinner, or right before bed are times that commonly work for my clients. Whatever time it is for you, challenge yourself to do this every day for 10 days in a row, and let me know what benefits of walking you experience. Bonus points for not using technology on your walk!
Want even more? Check out this post on the top 7 benefits of exercise (that have nothing to do with the scale)!
Now it’s your turn … How often do you go for a walk? What benefits have you experienced?