Walking is one of the best low-impact activities that just about anyone can do, and the health benefits of walking are numerous. Walking affects the entire body, especially the cardiovascular system and muscles.
Some of the health benefits of walking one hour a day include maintaining a healthy weight, improving balance and coordination, helping manage blood pressure, and even enhancing your mood—just try being in a bad mood after walking briskly in the sun and fresh air!
If you can’t make it to the gym because of physical limitations or because you may not like group exercise classes, then walking is an activity you should be considering. The health benefits of walking daily have been written up in many articles and research papers, and it’s a bit shocking that more people don’t do this simple, free, and easy activity every day.
Why Walking Is Important for Your Health
Many people believe running and jogging are the top ways to get physically in shape and stay healthy, but running is particularly hard on the body, especially on the joints, so it’s not for everyone. Walking is less intense than running and you have to do more of it for longer periods of time, but that doesn’t mean it should be discredited—it’s a completely valid and excellent way to stay healthy. Even if it’s the only thing you’re doing, you’d still be in better shape than if you did nothing at all.
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The current American Heart Association/American College of Sports Medicine standards say that people should aim to walk briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week versus running for 20 minutes three times a week. But the risk of injury is far greater with running, and requires more time used in warming up and cooling down, whereas walking doesn’t. You just get outside and move. And let’s not forget the mental health benefits of walking—nothing beats down stress faster than a brisk walk!
Walking benefits your health because it:
- Helps you lose and maintain your current weight;
- Lowers blood pressure;
- Improves blood circulation;
- Improves your mental state;
- Cuts the risk of type-2 diabetes by about 60%;
- Prevents dementia;
- Boosts vitamin D;
- Gives you an energy boost; and
- Gets you outside, interacting with the natural world.
Further to that, here are some statistics on the health benefits of walking, as reported by the CDC:
- Less than half (48%) of American adults get enough aerobic activity to make a difference in their health.
- Over 145 million adults include walking in their physical activity routines
- Over 6 in 10 people walk for various reasons, such as transportation, exercise, relaxation, to walk the dog or just for fun.
Walking Health Benefits
Walking is essential and is the most basic foundation of movement. A sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of obesity and other chronic diseases, so getting active is important to your overall long-term health. Below are eight benefits of walking for health.
1. Improves Bone Mass
If you have osteoporosis, walking can help prevent the loss of bone mass. Thirty minutes of walking a day can reduce hip fractures by 40%.
2. Improves Circulation
According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, women who walked 30 minutes a day reduced their risk of stroke by 20%. If they engaged in brisk walking, that benefit increased to 40%.
3. Leads to a Longer Life
A research team form the University of Michigan Medical School and the Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System says those in their 50s and 60s who exercise regularly are 35% less likely to die within the next eight years than those in the same age bracket who do not walk regularly.
4. Improves Mood
A study from California State University, Long Beach, revealed that an improvement in mood coincided with an increased number of steps taken during the day, because walking releases endorphins.
5. Can Lead to Weight Loss
Walking burns calories. Calories burned equals weight loss. It can be as simple as that, provided you’re not eating a box of doughnuts when you get home.
6. Strengthens Your Muscles
Obviously, you’re using your legs when walking, so those muscles get toned, but as a bonus, so do your abdominal muscles.
7. Improves Sleep
It’s well-known that getting exercise during the day will improve your sleep by helping exhaust the body. Just be sure you take that brisk walk several hours before bedtime, or you might be too pumped up to hit the hay.
8. Keeps You Mentally Sharp
Studies have shown that walking improves age-related memory decline. There’s a popular online meme that talks about the health benefits of walking 10,000 steps a day (also known as the benefits of walking five miles a day). But that number doesn’t have much basis in science or official recommendation from a national health agency.
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity per week for adults, which amounts to about 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day. If you can do more than that, great, go for it, nothing wrong with that at all. But you don’t have to hit 10,000 steps a day to claim to be active.
Limitations of Walking
While walking can be good for you, the health benefits of walking do have some limitations:
- Walking may be one of the easiest forms of activity you can do, but it won’t help build muscle or improve your cardiovascular system. It will help you tone muscle, but not add mass, if that’s what you’re after. You’ll need to use resistance training and more intense cardio to accomplish those goals.
- Walking is part of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s just the start to making healthier lifestyle choices. Develop other simple habits that will benefit your health, such as eating a balanced diet, eliminating processed foods and junk food from your diet, and seeing your doctor for regular checkups.
- It’s a low-intensity exercise so the results can be limited, unless you engage in brisk walking, and do it often over long distances.
- You burn fewer calories than you would running, biking, and swimming, unless—again—you make up for it in distance.
- Walking long distances on concrete can cause and exacerbate shin splints (front lower leg pain).
- Meditation and Exercise Can Help Cure Depression When Done Together
- Exercise Can Extend Your Life by As Much As 6 Years, Research Shows
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Walking: Your Steps to Health,” Harvard Health Publications web site; http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Walking-Your-steps-to-health, last accessed April 5, 2016.
“8 Reasons Why Walking Is Good for Your Health,” Tesco Living web site; https://www.tescoliving.com/articles/8-reasons-why-walking-is-great-for-your-health, last accessed April 5, 2016.
“Walking: Trim Your Waistline, Improve Your Health,” Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/walking/art-20046261, last accessed April 5, 2016.
“12 Benefits of Walking,” Arthritis Foundation web site; http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/workouts/walking/wow-of-walking.php, last accessed April 5, 2016.
“Disadvantages of Walking as an Exercise,” Livestrong web site; http://www.livestrong.com/article/228672-disadvantages-of-walking-as-an-exercise/, last accessed April 5, 2016.
“The Truth About ‘10,000 Steps’ a Day,” Livescience web site; http://www.livescience.com/43956-walking-10000-steps-healthy.html, last accessed April 5, 2016.
“More People Walk to Better Health,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site; http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/walking/, last accessed April 5, 2016.