Unless you have a debilitating injury or infirmity, walking is the most natural, and easiest primal movement for human beings, and the most convenient form of exercise. Since walking involves no specialty equipment, there are no excuses for not getting in enough of this basic human movement that helps to facilitate fundamental healthy benefits for your entire body.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average adult needs 150 minutes of aerobic activity, at a moderate intensity level, every week, to stay healthy. That equates to about 30 minutes of brisk walking, five days per week.
12 Benefits of Walking
Lowers Risk of Disease
The three main risk factors for heart disease and stroke are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. According to a 2013 study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkeley California, regular brisk walks for thirty minutes or more can lower your risk for developing these conditions as much as running can.
A study performed by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in 2000, Physical Activity and Risk of Stroke in Women, proved that “Brisk or striding walking pace was associated with lower risk of total and ischemic stroke, compared with average or casual pace.”.
An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel responsible for supplying blood to the brain is obstructed, usually by fatty deposits lining the vessel walls. These types of strokes account for about 87% of total stroke cases.
In 2010, The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: Joint Position Statement, performed a study that verified that physical activity and weight loss has been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, in high-risk populations, by up to 58%.
Boosts Vitamin D
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium for bone strength. Recent studies have also now found a correlation between a deficiency of vitamin D and heart disease, depression, and weight gain; as well as breast, colon and prostate cancers. While it has been shown that those with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of having these diseases, it has not been proven that vitamin D deficiency necessarily causes the diseases.
Maintaining an adequate level of vitamin D within your body can be difficult, especially if your time outside is limited. Eating foods rich in vitamin D or taking supplements can be helpful, but it can be difficult to reach the necessary levels without sunlight. Sunlight is the most natural way to receive an abundance of Vitamin D, and walking outside is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Not only will you be getting more steps into your day, but your body will be absorbing more Vitamin D.
The California State University, Long Beach, produced a study that proved that the more physically active a person was throughout the day, and the more steps they took, the happier they were. Endorphins are released during all moderate to high intensity level exercises, which means that you can benefit from the same mood boosting properties during a moderately brisk walk as a high intensity run. The release of endorphins produces an analgesic effect, reducing or even eliminating the perception of pain. The effects of endorphins often mirror that of morphine, without the debilitating addictive properties.
For maximum benefits walk in natural environments rather than cityscapes or man-made parks.
When walking outside, the benefits become double fold, because of the calming and stress reducing properties that nature can have on our psyche. A 2015 study by Gregory N Bratman, found that “a pathway by which nature experience may improve mental well-being”, meaning that time spent in natural settings: forests, woods, beaches, etc., decreases the risk of mental illness and depression in urban dwellers.
Lowers Risk of Dementia/Alzheimer’s
The University of California, San Francisco, performed a study that was focused on 6,000 women (65+) who walked 2.5 miles per day versus those who walked less than half of a mile per week. The study found that individuals who walked longer distances more often had a lower rate of memory decline (at 17%) than those who did not walk as much (at 25%).
In a study performed by the University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, the activity levels of men aged 71 to 93 were observed and recorded. It was discovered that men within this age range who walked less than a quarter of a mile per day were twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who walked for more than a quarter of a mile per day.
Walking strengthens bones and joints which helps keep the elderly strong and mobile, but there are other benefits of walking for the elderly as well. According to Trail-Walking Exercise And Fall Risk Factors In Community Dwelling Older Adults, a 2010 study on the different effects trail walking versus indoor walking had on the balance of the elderly. While both types of walking promoted bone and muscle strengthening as well as joint mobility, only the trail walkers increased their balance, which led to fewer incidents of falls.
Stronger bones, muscles, and joints will certainly reduce the risk of falls among the elderly, but the best way to decrease the rate of incident is to increase and improve balance. Walking on uneven, or natural ground, such as: sand, dirt, and grass, is the best way to achieve greater balance while establishing a moderate exercise routine.
For the best results older adults should begin trail walking to improve their balance, before falling incidents become a problem.
Improves Glycemic Control
Loretta DiPietro, PHD performed a study in which she compared the interstitial glucose concentrations of two groups of inactive participants, aged 60+. The first group walked for fifteen minutes after each meal of the day (three meals total), while the second group walked for forty five minutes straight once per day, either mid morning, or mid afternoon. It was found that both groups had better glycemic control on days that they walked, but that the group who took shorter walks, immediately after eating sustained their glycemic control for longer periods of time.
Walking for shorter amounts of time, more frequently can be more beneficial to your glycemic control in the long run, especially for older adults.
A study performed by Masashi Miyashita, Accumulating Short Bouts of Brisk Walking Reduces Postprandial Plasma Triacylglycerol Concentrations and Resting Blood Pressure in Healthy Young Men, set out to determine if briskly walking for three minutes at a time, ten times per day, had the same effect as briskly walking for a total of thirty minutes at a time. It was discovered that the two were easily interchangeable among healthy young men, when measuring systolic blood pressure and postprandial lipemia. It is important to note, however that the study did not account for older adults or those with health conditions.
Boosts Immune Function
No one likes getting sick, which is why people spend so much time trying to figure out how to improve their immune system function. Since it is such a hot topic, there are numerous answers that can be found, however the most natural and healthy way to boost your immune function, just happens to also be one of the easiest. Walking. Walking for thirty minutes has been shown to cause “modest and short-lived changes in immune parameters, most notably for neutrophil and natural killer blood cell counts.” In a study performed by Nieman DC, it was discovered that however small the increase was, there was, in fact, an increase of killer T-cells in the bodies of individuals who walked more often, which increased their immunity. Since the increase is short-lived, it is suggested that those who wish to increase their immunity long term, simply continue the daily thirty minute brisk walks.
May Improve Arthritis
Exercise with arthritis can be troublesome from both sides of the spectrum. Avoiding exercise when you have arthritis will certainly not make the situation any better, and could actually create more problems in the future. Unfortunately exercising with arthritis can be incredibly painful, so although it can be helpful it is often foregone.
Participating in moderate exercise that puts minimal pressure on the joints, such as: swimming (or other types of water aerobics), limited weight training, and walking, are all great ways to keep your body mobile and your arthritis pain at bay. The study, Long Term Exercise and it’s Effect on Balance in Older, Osteoarthritic Adults, suggests participating long term in weight training or walking programs to improve their arthritis symptoms, including postural sway and imbalance.
Strengthens Bones & Joints
According to Michael A. Schwartz, MD, of Plancher Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, New York, in people with osteoporosis, walking has the capability of stopping the loss of bone mass. He explains that “One of the well-known orthopaedic phrases is ‘Life is lotion and lotion is life.’ Walking starts that ‘lotion’ moving through the joints.”
A study, performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, proved that walking for thirty minutes per day reduced a postmenopausal woman’s risk of hip fractures and bone degeneration by up to forty percent. While another study performed by Diane Feskanich, focused on hip fractures in men. In her study, she found that “walking is generally a relatively safe and easy activity for hip fracture prevention”.
Adding more steps to your day is more about being healthy than it is about losing weight, but like any physical activity, walking does promote weight loss by burning calories based on intensity. There are many different ways to burn calories and promote fat loss, but when it comes right down to it, getting in 10,000 steps daily, is one of the easiest “non-workouts” you can do to promote additional burned calories. Going for a thirty minute daily walk can burn seventy five to one hundred and fifty calories per day depending on how fast you are walking, and that doesn’t factor in the additional calories that can be burned by speed walking.
A sleep study performed by Fred Hutchinson’s Public Health Science Division, found that “women who exercised at a moderate intensity for at least half an hour each morning, seven days per week, had less trouble falling asleep than those who exercised less”. It is interesting to note that when the exercise was performed later in the day the women saw little or no improvement in their ability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
At the University of Michigan Medical School and the Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System, research has found that individuals in their fifties and sixties, who engage in regular physical activity, are thirty five percent less likely to die within the next eight years than those who do not spend time exercising. This figure is not surprising when you consider all of the ways in which walking improves your basic bodily functions; reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s; improving muscle and bone strength, joint movement, and overall balance; and lengthening glycemic control and sleep.
Walking only twenty to twenty five minutes per week can extend your life by several years.
Pedometer Counts 10,000 Steps: The Magic Number
Considering that the stride of an average height person is about 2.0 to 2.5 feet, a single mile would equate to just over 2,000 steps. In the course of a day most people, unless unusually sedentary, take roughly 5,900 steps, equating to walking just under three miles. This is still about a mile short of the CDC’s recommendation though, who suggest 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day to meet your aerobic activity minimums for the day.
The 10,000 steps “magic number” originates from a Japanese pedometer from the 1960’s called manpo-kei, or 10,000 step counter. It’s creator, Y. Hatano, conducted research and found that 10,000 steps were necessary to maintain a healthy body based on the proper caloric intake, and generalized activity-based caloric expenditure. Although we now understand that exercise requirements are highly specific to the individual, it is still widely accepted that 10,000 steps per day is the optimal number to hit.
Check out our basal metabolic rate calculator to determine your personal daily caloric needs based on your current activity level.
While we agree that incorporating more moderate to high intensity activity into your daily activities is beneficial, immediately aiming for 10,000 steps could prove to be a daunting task, especially if your current activity levels mirror those of most Americans at only 5,900 steps per day. If that is the case, we recommend increasing your steps goal by 1,000 per day for a week, to ease yourself into the transition.
Remember that gradual lifestyle changes are easier to maintain in the long run than drastic changes.
An additional 1,000 steps can be integrated into your life through simple alterations in your everyday life, including: parking farther from the store or building, climbing the stairs rather than riding the elevator or escalator, and pacing while on the phone or in a meeting. Carving out a specific part of your day for a brisk walk will ensure that you not only reap the benefits of walking more steps but also the benefits of more aerobic activities.
Making sure that you’re walking every day is one of the best things that you can do for your health, but getting in 10,000 steps without trying isn’t going to happen if you spend most of your day at a desk, driving, or otherwise in the seated position. You can set yourself up for success with just a few basic tips though.
Set a simple goal, like taking a 5-10 minute walk during your lunch break, or immediately after work. When this becomes a habit, add more time or find additional time to take short walk breaks.
Make It Fun
Walking doesn’t have to feel like exercise, remember that for a brisk moderately intense walk, you should be able to talk but not sing, so invite a friend and make it a social hour, or healthy alternative to happy hour.
Switch It Up
Although you should always map out your route ahead of time so that you can be sure to avoid uneven sidewalks, potholes, and low hanging limbs that will inhibit your natural stride, you should also be sure to have a few different routes so that you avoid boredom with your routine.
When walking alone be sure to choose well lit areas, with foot traffic, for safety, and always let someone know when you’ll be walking and which route you’ll be taking.
Whether you’re participating in an Olympic sport or taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood it is always important to remember that safety comes first. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind, during exercising.
When it comes to exercising, your shoes should be more comfortable and supportive than fashionable, and when walking outside, your clothes should appropriately match the weather and time of day that you’re out.
Remember to wear bright colors and reflective fabrics at night.
Be sure to choose walking paths without cracks or pot holes in the pavement, and unless you’re hiking, you’re better off with even terrain, so that your natural stride is not inhibited. Having an indoor contingency plan for bad weather is always a plus.
The first and last 5 to 10 minutes of your walk should be a warm up and cool down period for your body and should be performed at a slower pace than the rest of your walk.
Don’t forget to stretch before and after your walk, to keep your muscles limber.
Environmental Benefits of Walking
Aside from the numerous physical and psychological benefits of walking, there are also environmental benefits of walking. For instance, in any given year a single car will produce about 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide, while walking produces none. Of the total U.S. carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions, transportation is the second largest, accounting for 31%, following closely behind electricity at 37%.
Fact: 40% of U.S. travel occurs within a two mile radius of home and 90% of this travel is by car. It would only take one out of every ten people to switch their transportation method during these quick trips to a more energy efficient option to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 25.5 million tons per year.
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