It’s safe, free, easy to do, doesn’t require any special equipment or a gym membership, and is one of the best ways to protect your heart and keep your body healthy. Yet, it is often pushed aside in favor of flashier, more “impressive,” or more physically demanding workouts. The truth is, the benefits of walking are incredible and worth paying attention to.
Grab your tennis shoes, hit the trail, and start walking…you’ll thank us later. Here’s why you should get your walk on daily.
Benefits of walking every day
Walking reduces diabetes risk
Even if you don’t have diabetes, your blood sugar could be raging unchecked throughout your body. Poor dietary choices, obesity, lack of physical activity, and stress can all contribute to high blood sugar and, eventually, the development of diabetes.
Walking could help regulate blood sugar and reduce diabetes risk by 43 percent.
Walking improves mood
A simple outdoor walk is a powerful tool for reducing stress, decreasing the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and brightening your mood. It isn’t just a feeling either; science backs up the effects of walking on your brain.
A brisk walk gets the blood flowing through your whole body, increasing circulation and oxygen to the brain. When your brain has an adequate oxygen supply, you can think more clearly, experience less brain fog, and have an improved mood.
Walking reduces circulating cortisol levels and can be an excellent tool for managing chronic stress. It positively impacts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the body’s central stress response system. Meaning the more often you walk, the less stressed you will be.
One 2016 study found that even when participants were not aware of the nature of the experiment, walking produced increased feelings of joy, interest, and excitement. The 128 participants weren’t thinking of the walk as exercise in the study but still received a mood boost. The simple act of getting up and walking, regardless of your thoughts on the matter, could put you in a better state of mind.
Studies have shown that taking a stroll through nature, especially a forested area, could be a beneficial tool for managing and reducing depression and anxiety. Walking outdoors is especially powerful because sunlight increases serotonin levels (the happy hormone) and helps ward off negative emotions.
Walking helps maintain a healthy weight
The shocking statistics of obese and overweight Americans correlate with the rise of a sedentary lifestyle. Drive-thrus, grocery delivery, and work-from-home jobs have made it possible for people to move very little and exercise even less.
The CDC estimates that 73 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. This number could decrease dramatically with simple lifestyle interventions such as a clean diet and a daily walk.
Walking is accessible for any mobile individual, even if they are overweight. It is the gateway into a healthy body that everyone can unlock.
This incredible form of aerobic exercise combats the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, helps you burn calories (which contributes to weight loss), and reduces belly fat associated with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Plus, since walking is so easy to incorporate into your daily routine and makes you feel better, many people find it easier to stick with than other types of exercise. Walking helps you lose weight and help you maintain that weight loss.
Walking alleviates joint pain
Unlike other aerobic exercises such as running, walking is gentle on your joints. It is an excellent choice for people with arthritis, chronic joint pain, or those who are recovering from an injury.
Though rest can occasionally alleviate joint pain, gentle stretching and walking are often more helpful. These exercises can help improve blood flow to the cartilage around your joints, lubricate your joints, and reduce swelling and stiffness.
Swimming and biking are also excellent choices for increasing mobility and preventing joint pain.
Walking reduces risk of developing cancer
A large study led by the American Cancer Society found that walking is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer and colon cancer, along with heart disease and diabetes.
Researchers noted a link between any amount of walking (even below minimum recommendations) and lower mortality risk. However, they saw the most benefit in people who got one to two times the daily recommended amount of physical activity.
The American Cancer Society suggests a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. Walking for 30 minutes per day and incorporating strength-training exercise a few days a week is a great way to exceed these guidelines for maximum protective benefits.
Results from pooled data of 12 studies covering 1.44 million people showed that leisure-time physical activity, including walking, was associated with a lower risk of over 13 different types of cancer, even after adjusting for factors like smoking and obesity.
Walking benefits blood pressure
Elevated blood pressure or hypertension can contribute to several heart conditions, including stroke. Research published in the journal Hypertension indicates that exercise, not medication, could be the key to reducing elevated blood pressure by reducing blood vessel stiffness and improving circulation.
Walking strengthens muscles
Most people don’t think of walking as their first option to tone and define muscles, but this exercise is deceptively effective. Find a route with hills or some form of incline, and you will reap even more musculoskeletal benefits.
Walking benefits the brain
Daily, moderate exercise is the best defense against age-related cognitive decline. Walking protects the brain by improving blood flow and increasing the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory.
It can also reduce risk factors associated with dementia, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Some studies support physical activity for reducing cognitive decline in older individuals as it could strengthen communication between brain cells.
Walking reduces the risk of heart disease
Like every other kind of movement, walking is one of the greatest things you can do to achieve your 100 Year Heart and prevent cardiovascular disease. Studies suggest that 30 minutes of walking five days a week could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 30 percent.
Brisk walking gives your lungs and heart a gentle workout to help improve oxygen intake, normalize cholesterol, reduce resting heart rate, and keep your blood circulating effectively.
Walking benefits sleep
An evening walk could be just what you need to unwind, relax, and sleep soundlessly through the night. Lack of movement is associated with sleep disturbances and insomnia. Walking benefits quality sleep and prevents stress-related sleep disturbances.
Walking benefits digestion
Gut health is far more critical than you might think. When your gut is healthy and happy, so are you. Walking may improve bowel movement regularity, reduce constipation, and prevent bloating. Scientists believe this is because walking helps stimulate the digestive system and helps it work more effectively.
Walking boosts the immune system
Regular, moderate exercise activates the immune response and keeps your immune cells in top fighting form, ready to fend off any foreign pathogens or harmful bacteria.
Walking increases energy
Though many people associate physical activity with fatigue, the opposite is true, particularly with walking. Getting your walk on could give you that afternoon pick-me-up, as walking improves circulation, increasing the oxygen in your blood that your mitochondria use to create energy on a cellular level.
How to walk for your 100 Year Heart
- Stay consistent: Any movement is better than no movement. A 30-minute walk (or longer) every day is sustainable and easy to fit into your routine. Just keep moving!
- Get outside: While walking on a treadmill is a better option than not walking, try to get outside as much as possible. The added benefits of sunshine and fresh air will elevate your walk and make it even more life-giving.
- Bring a friend: Walking by yourself is a great time to get in touch with your thoughts, commune with nature, and practice active meditation. However, if you prefer company or need another person to keep you accountable, enlist a friend to join you on your daily walk. Positive social interaction is great for your mental and heart health!
- Level up when you’re ready: Simply getting outside and going for a walk can be counted as a win. However, once you’ve gotten used to walking every day, start to increase your speed for even more aerobic benefit. Getting your heart rate elevated with exercise is an excellent way to support cardiovascular health.
- Make physical activity part of your life: Walking every day is an excellent goal to strive for, but it can be a little tricky to make it a part of your routine when you’re just starting. Train your brain to crave movement by making simple lifestyle adjustments, such as parking at the back of the parking lot, walking on your lunch break, and taking the stairs. The steps add up quicker than you think.
Living a healthy lifestyle is not complicated. Eat a clean, 100 Year Heart Diet, avoid processed foods, get out in the sunshine, and get moving. You don’t need expensive equipment or a personal trainer to get fit and protect your heart — your own two legs will do just fine and will carry you far on your wellness journey.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD