Walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking is free and doesn’t require any special equipment or training.
Walking is low impact, requires minimal equipment, can be done at any time of day and can be performed at your own pace. You can get out and walk without worrying about the risks associated with some more vigorous forms of exercise. Walking is also a great form of physical activity for people who are overweight, elderly, or who haven’t exercised in a long time.
Health benefits of walking
You carry your own body weight when you walk. This is known as weight-bearing exercise. Some of the benefits include:
- increased cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness
- reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
- improved management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness, and diabetes
- stronger bones and improved balance
- increased muscle strength and endurance
- reduced body fat.
Building physical activity into your life
If it’s too difficult to walk for 30 minutes at one time, do regular small bouts (10 minutes) three times per day and gradually build up to longer sessions. However, if your goal is to lose weight, you will need to do physical activity for longer than 30 minutes each day. You can still achieve this by starting with smaller bouts of activity throughout the day and increasing these as your fitness improves.
Physical activity built into a daily lifestyle plan is also one of the most effective ways to assist with weight loss and keep weight off once it’s lost.
Some suggestions to build walking into your daily routine include:
- Take the stairs instead of the lift (for at least part of the way).
- Get off public transport one stop earlier and walk to work or home.
- Walk (don’t drive) to the local shops.
- Walk the dog (or your neighbour’s dog).
A comfortable intensity for walking
Walking fast burns more calories per hour than walking slowly, but this doesn’t mean you have to push yourself until you’re breathless. Instead, pace yourself so that you can still talk.
Our bodies tend to get used to physical activity, so continue to increase your intensity as you are able to improve your fitness levels. You can increase the intensity of your walks by:
- walking up hills
- walking with hand weights
- increasing your walking speed gradually by including some quick walking
- increasing the distance you walk quickly before returning to a moderate walking pace
- walking for longer.
There are so many health benefits from walking, here are just some:
- Burn calories
Walking can help you burn calories. Burning calories can help you maintain or lose weight. Your actual calorie burn will depend on several factors, including:
- walking speed
- distance covered
- terrain (you’ll burn more calories walking uphill than you’ll burn on a flat surface)
- your weight
Walking at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week can reduce your risk for coronary heart disease by about 19%. And your risk may reduce even more when you increase the duration or distance you walk per day.
3. Can help lower your blood sugar
Taking a short walk after eating may help lower your blood sugar. Consider making a post-meal walk a regular part of your routine. It can also help you fit exercise in throughout the day.
4. Eases joint pain
Walking can help protect the joints, including your knees and hips. That’s because it helps lubricate and strengthen the muscles that support the joints. Walking may also provide benefits for people living with arthritis, such as reducing pain. And walking 5 to 6 miles a week may also help prevent arthritis.
5. Boosts immune function
Walking may reduce your risk for developing a cold or the flu. One study tracked 1,000 adults during flu season. Those who walked at a moderate pace for 30 to 45 minutes a day had 43 percent fewer sick days and fewer upper respiratory tract infections overall. Their symptoms were also lessened if they did get sick. That was compared to adults in the study who were sedentary. Try to get in a daily walk to experience these benefits.
6. Boost your energy
Going for a walk when you’re tired may be a more effective energy boost than grabbing a cup of coffee. Walking increases oxygen flow through the body. It can also increase levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Those are the hormones that help elevate energy levels.
7. Improve your mood
Walking can help your mental health. Studies show it can help reduce anxiety, depression, and a negative mood. It can also boost self-esteem and reduce symptoms of social withdrawal.
8. Extend your life
Walking at a faster pace could extend your life. Researchers found that walking at an average pace compared to a slow pace resulted in a 20% reduced risk of overall death. But walking at a brisk or fast pace (at least 4 miles per hour) reduced the risk by 24% The study looked at the association of walking at a faster pace with factors like overall causes of death, cardiovascular disease, and death from cancer.
9. Tone your legs
Walking can strengthen the muscles in your legs. To build up more strength, walk in a hilly area or on a treadmill with an incline. Or find routes with stairs. Also trade off walking with other cross-training activities like cycling or jogging. You can also perform resistance exercises like squats, lunges, and leg curls to further tone and strengthen your leg muscles.
10. Creative thinking
Walking may help clear your head and help you think creatively. A study that included four experiments compared people trying to think of new ideas while they were walking or sitting. Researchers found participants did better while walking, particularly while walking outdoors. The researchers concluded that walking opens up a free flow of ideas and is a simple way to increase creativity and get physical activity at the same time.
Try to initiate a walking meeting with your colleagues the next time you’re stuck on a problem at work.
Do you want to start walking more? Do you want to improve your health and fitness levels? Do you have fitness goals you want to achieve? Do you want to lead a healthier lifestyle and reduce your reliance on pain medication? Are you 50+ and want to keep fit and healthy?