Did you know there’s a free habit you can incorporate into your daily routine that will help you maintain or obtain a healthy weight, support brain health and bone health, and help you sleep better? It’s walking! In fact, there are many amazing benefits of walking. It’s easy to get started, so why wait?
Here are 10 amazing benefits of walking and how it supports your health from your feet to your head.
Bone density is extremely important, especially as we age. The good news is that walking is a healthy, free, enjoyable activity that can improve bone density and may reduce the risk of hip fractures. In fact, one analysis of over 61000 women found that walking 4 or more hours per week was associated with a >40% reduced risk of hip fractures in postmenopausal women (1). That’s a wonderful benefit of taking a walk!
First, all exercise including walking can release natural painkillers called endorphins throughout the body. But walking outside goes beyond painkillers, it can actually improve mood.
One researcher from California State University Long Beach spent years studying exercise and diet on mood. Dr. Thayer’s studies found that the more steps people took during the day, the better their moods were.
What’s more, studies have found that activity outside improves health markers and reduces cortisol, tension, fatigue, and depression. It also spurs more exercise like walking. A recent study concluded that men and women over 66 years who exercised outside reported higher levels of total activity per week than inside-exercisers (2).
So, get outside, and keep walking!
While not everyone feels comfortable running, whether due to painful joints, fear of falls and injury, or other reasons, walking remains accessible to many people.
And, it’s available to most year-round. Even with cold or icy weather, many adults still feel comfortable walking outside. Or, they use malls, gyms, and large stores to get in more steps.
Walking supports heart health by elevating heart rate for better artery health, improving blood pressure, and strengthening the heart.
Studies have actually found that post-menopausal women who walk just one to two miles a day can lower their blood pressure by nearly 11 points in 24 weeks. Walking 30 minutes a day can reduce the risk of stroke by 20%, and by 40% when they stepped up the pace, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
What’s more, walking briskly may be as good for your heart as running. One study of over 33000 runners and more than 15000 walkers found that a brisk walking pace resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years (3).
Research has found an association between exercise, like walking and lower mortality. For example, one study out of Germany of 1271 participants over 65 years old concluded that there was an inverse relationship between walking duration and four-year overall mortality (4).
What’s more, researchers have found that physical inactivity is one important cause of many chronic diseases including many heart conditions, some cancers, diabetes, obesity, and more. Physical activity, such as walking, can be used as primary prevention for chronic disease (5).
Beyond extending life, physical activity may also improve enjoyment and abilities in life. Studies have found that aerobic walking and resistance exercise programs may reduce the incidence of disability in the activities of daily living for people who are older than 65 and have conditions such as osteoarthritis.
While it’s not always consider an intense cardiovascular workout, a brisk walk can certainly get your heart rate up and even burn 200 calories per 30 minutes. If used 5 days per week, one can easily burn an extra 1000 calories per week, by just taking a walk. This extra calorie burn can promote a healthy weight and improved overall health.
You use a lot of muscles when you walk. First, of course, you use your legs, including quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
But what many don’t realize, it can also be a great core workout, too! When you walk, you can tone your core by intentionally engaging your glutes and your abdominal muscles.
What’s more, get your arms involved by propelling your body using arm-swings during your walk. It’s easy to turn a walk into a brisk, full-body workout.
A full-body muscle-strengthening workout is another of many benefits of walking.
Almost everyone would like to sleep better.
A recent study found that increasing daily steps by at least 2000 steps per day significantly improve the quality of sleep, specifically among women participants (6). What’s more, if you combine a brisk walk with getting outside into natural light early in the day, you can support healthy sleep patterns and circadian rhythms by improving melatonin levels.
Did you know that most of the cartilage in your joints don’t receive blood flow? Instead, your joints rely on joint fluid, and movement increases the flow of joint-healthy nutrients and oxygen from joint fluid throughout joints.
Scientists are finding that the more you move, the better lubricated joints remain (7).
Walking may also support brain health from reducing age-related memory decline to the risk of degenerative conditions. One study of 6,000 women aged 65 years and older found that age-related memory decline was 8% lower in those who walked more 2.5 miles per day versus 1/2 mile per day.
Another study from the University of Virginia Health System found that men aged 71-93 years who walked more than 1/4 mile per day had 50% less incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s than those who walked less. Others have shown that less active women have 2 times the incidence of cognitive impairment (8).
While these studies do not show cause and effect, they do show an association.
There’s no better time than now to start walking, or walking more. If you’re new to a daily walking routine, try to start with just 30 minutes per day at a comfortable pace. Then, begin to increase the pace to a brisk walk, for at least 50% of the duration. Continue to increase the pace for more benefits.
If you’re already a regular walker, consider adding 2000 more steps per day to your routine by increasing your pace.
There are many benefits of walking! It’s great for overall health, enjoyable, and free.