According to the American Heart Association, when it comes to health benefits, walking is the simplest, safest, and cheapest way to get the most benefits from exercise. It is safer and easier than jogging, and studies show if your goal is health benefits, walking is as good as running without the high impact that can cause back or knee pain.
What Are the Benefits of Walking?
Walking reduces your risk of many diseases and conditions. It also improves your health in many ways. Improvements include:
- Clearer thinking
- Better mood
- Better sleep
- Less body fat
- More energy
- More endurance
- Better balance
- Stronger immune system
- Better blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels
Walking can reduce your risk for these diseases and conditions:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Some cancers
- Varicose veins
How Much Walking Do You Need?
The walking for health recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate intensity walking every week, or 30 minutes of moderate intensity walking at least 5 days of the week. It is important to know that this amount of walking does not need to be done all at once. You can get the same benefits taking three 10-minute walks as taking one 30-minute walk.
It is also important to know what moderate intensity means. Moderate intensity walking is walking at about 3.5 miles per hour. According to the National Institutes of Health, you should try to cover one mile in 15 to 20 minutes for heart health and other health benefits.
How to Walk for Health
If you have any health issues that make it hard for you to walk, talk to your doctor about what type or amount of walking is safe for you. There may be other types of aerobic exercise that are better for you, like water aerobics or a stationary bike.
If you are able to walk without pain or shortness of breath:
- Start walking slowly to warm up before picking up your pace.
- Work up to 30 minutes of moderate intensity walking gradually, according to your level of fitness.
- If moderate intensity walking is hard at first, alternate between slower and faster walking until you build up your stamina and fitness.
- For the last 5 to 10 minutes of your walk, slow it down to cool off.
- At the end of your walk, while your muscles are still warm and relaxed, do some stretching.
- Stretch your arms, back, and legs gently. Hold each stretch for about 15 to 30 seconds.
Walking is one of the safest exercises, but you still need to listen to your body. Let your doctor know if you have pain or shortness of breath. You can also overdo walking, especially at the beginning. “How much is too much depends on your personal body. The main things to worry about are joint pain in your knees and ankles, an uncomfortable back, and surface issues like blisters,” says Matt Claes, head coach and founder of Weight Loss Made Practical.
“Incorrect foot position during heavy walking can cause inflammation or pain in the outer ankles. Also, prolonged incorrect walking or wrong footwear can lead to muscle pain. They can also be hurt due to unpreparedness. If you have not exercised for a long time and one day you have decided to walk 5 miles, your body will experience a shock, so not only will you get tired quickly, but you will probably feel pain,” says Dr. Rosmy Barrios of Health Reporter.
Walking safety tips:
- Don’t walk with weights, this does not improve the benefits but does increase the risk of injury.
- Walk with a good posture, keeping your head up so you can see where you’re going.
- If you listen to music, make sure it is not so loud that you can’t hear road noise.
- Walk with your arms slightly bent and swinging.
- Make sure your waking shoes fit well, are cushioned, and have good arch support.
- Wear a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses on sunny days.
- Dress for the weather if you are walking outdoors.
- To stay hydrated, drink plenty of water.
- Pick a walking area that is safe and fits your level of stamina.
- If it may get dark, wear light-reflective clothing.
- Bring your cell phone and let someone know where and when you will be walking if you walk alone.
“Get fitted for good walking shoes and wear comfortable, sweat-wicking clothing and reflectors. Stay hydrated, find a walking buddy if you need extra motivation, wear sun protection, and plan ahead for rain or other inclement weather, when you can shift to walking inside or wear appropriate clothing,” says Dr. Jacob Hascalovici MD, PhD, Co-Founder & Chief Medical Officer of Clearing.
To stay motivated and to help you stick to your walking goals, using an app on your smart phone can help you keep track of your steps, miles, and progress. Alternating your walks with different areas and terrains helps keep walking fun. You may enjoy walking more with a friend or a group, or you may enjoy the solitude of walking alone or listening to music. Whatever it takes to make walking part of your life will be worth the effort. When it comes to your health, no exercise gives you more bang for your buck than walking.