Let’s face it – not all of us are runners. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t still reap plenty of the health benefits of putting one foot in front of the other. The health benefits of walking, while different than running, are not any less valuable. For many people, walking is actually the superior form of exercise.
The Health Benefits of Walking
A lot of people look down on walking as not a “real” form of exercise. Considering walking is just something everyone has to do (at least a little bit) to get around, it isn’t considered in the same category as running, cycling, or other forms of cardio. However, not including walking as a part of your exercise routine means that you are missing out on some serious health benefits.
1. Eases Joint Pain
Not everyone can run. For some, running is just way too high impact. For those with joint pain, or for those who are overweight or obese, walking is a low-impact movement that you can do every day. Several studies have also found that walking five to six miles per week (less than a mile per day) can ease arthritis-related joint pain, particularly in your hips and knees. Walking loosens up the joints while also strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support those vulnerable points. (1)
2. Supports Immunity
Studies have found that walking 20 minutes per day, at least five days a week, required fewer sick days than those who exercised only once a week. If they did get sick, the symptoms were much more manageable. (1, 2)
3. Better Bone Health
Walking is still a weight-bearing exercise; therefore, it still helps to build strong bones. It just does so in a less jarring way than running. Walking also helps those already suffering from arthritis to slow the progression of bone loss. (3, 4)
4. Decreased Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar
Several studies have shown the positive impact that a regular walking routine has on blood pressure. The higher the person’s blood pressure at the start of the program, the more improvement is seen. Another study found that a 15-minute walk after each meal can help improve blood sugar, as well. These short walks were found to be more effective than one 45-minute walk each day. (5, 6)
5. Promote Weight Loss
Walking, particularly brisk walking, is a great way to burn calories. Some studies have shown that it reduces the effects of obesity-promoting genes by up to half, depending on how fast and how long you walk. (1, 7)
6. Improve Cardiovascular Health
Many studies have proven the health benefits of walking regularly include reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease. (8) It does this not only by the already-mentioned reductions of blood pressure and blood sugar but also by (9):
- Strengthening the heart muscle
- Reducing cholesterol
It also may improve the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. (10)
7. Boost Energy
Our lives tend to be quite sedentary. Sitting for hours at a time can leave us feeling tired and sluggish. Getting up and going out for a walk, especially if you can do so outdoors, wakes you up and makes you feel refreshed. It does this by increasing oxygen flow throughout the body and boosting energy-promoting hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. (11)
8. Reduce Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Other Illnesses
Multiple studies have shown the powerful impact walking has on diabetes prevention. (12) Walking can also reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, such as breast cancer.
9. Reduce Stress and Increase Longevity
You can’t necessarily control the external stresses in your life, but you can control how you respond to that stress. Walking is excellent stress relief, a great way to clear the mind, and promotes creativity to help you find solutions to problems. Stress reduction, combined with all the physical health benefits of walking, will help you live a longer, more healthful life. (1)
Make Your Walks Count
The best way to reap the benefits is to make them count – no, I’m not talking about a leisurely stroll through the park. Walk at a brisk pace and try changing it up by including elevation changes. If you’re walking outside, find routes that challenge you on the treadmill, select settings that change up your pace, and incline throughout your walk.
If you are walking outside, be sure to be prepared for the elements. In the heat, hydrate well before and after your walk. If you’re going for a long walk, bring water with you. Wear light-colored clothing, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.
If it is cold, dress in layers – it is always better to be too warm and need to remove a layer than to be too cold. Wear shoes that get proper traction on ice and snow. Always walk in well-lit areas when it is dark out and wear reflective gear when visibility is low.
Another great way to add walking into your exercise routine is to simply incorporate it into your day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator (at least part-way up!), get off the bus or subway a few stops early, and take half of your lunch break to get out for a walk around the block. However you choose to incorporate walking, you’ll be shocked at the incredible benefits it provides you.
- “5 surprising benefits of walking.” Health. July,2019.
- “Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults.” BJSM. David C Nieman, et al.
- “Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults.” Journals. Garber, et al. July 2011.
- “Exercise for Your Bone Health.” Bones.
- “Walking and hypertension: greater reductions in subjects with higher baseline systolic blood pressure following six months of guided walking.” PeerJ. Simona Mandini, et al. August 30, 2018.
- “Three 15-min Bouts of Moderate Postmeal Walking Significantly Improves 24-h Glycemic Control in Older People at Risk for Impaired Glucose Tolerance.” Diabetes Journals. Loretta DiPietro, et al. June 2013.
- “Moderate Walking Enhances the Effects of an Energy-Restricted Diet on Fat Mass Loss and Serum Insulin in Overweight and Obese Adults in a 12-Week Randomized Controlled Trial .” Academic. Bernadette Kleist, et al. October 2017.
- “Walking Take the first step!” Heart.
- “Quantifying the dose-response of walking in reducing coronary heart disease risk: meta-analysis.” Pub Med. Henry Zheng, et al. March 22, 2009.
- “Effects of exercise on HDL functionality.” Journals. Ruiz-Ramie, Jonathan J, et al. February 2019.
- “Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes.” ADA. Sheri R. Colberg, PHD, FACSM, et al.