Benefits of Walking: Taking Steps to Better Health
Looking to get started on an exercise routine? The most sensible—and accessible—strategy is to hoof it. The many benefits of walking make it our most popular physical activity.
Did you know that walking for just one minute can extend your life by one and a half to two minutes? That’s what the American College of Sports Medicine says about the benefits of walking.
Got just 20 to 25 minutes a week to walk? You can extend your life by years. You can even cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by half. Just by walking. And if you walk 20 minutes a day, you’ll burn off seven pounds of body fat per year.
Walking is a low-impact, inexpensive exercise that brings a multitude of health benefits. It requires no skill. All you have to do is put on a pair of comfortable walking shoes (good inner cushioning and light in weight with flexible soles), find a safe place to walk, and get moving.
How Walking Helps Your Body
While running does burn more calories than walking, the difference may surprise you. According to Livestrong.com, you can calculate the number of calories burned while walking one mile by multiplying your weight by 0.53. If you’re running that mile, multiply your weight by 0.75. So, a 120-pound person walking one mile will burn 63.6 calories. If that person ran the mile instead, it would be 90 calories. That’s not a huge difference, if you’re covering less than five miles a day (132 calories in five miles).
In the walking-vs.-running debate, the answer is in the middle: brisk walking, according to a December 2017 study that illuminates the benefits of walking.
By walking briskly, you can lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes as much as running, according to the study, conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkley, Calif. Researchers analyzed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study.
Their findings? The same energy used for moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years.
In an earlier study, researchers at the State University of New York at Binghamton found that moderately intensive walking improves cardiovascular risk factors in the short term. Details:
- The researchers tracked a test group’s walking and physical responses over a 10-week period.
- They measured the participants at the five-week point and then asked them to increase their efforts by 10 percent over the following five weeks.
- At 10 weeks, the researchers noted positive changes in cardiovascular health.
Benefits of Walking: The Full Range
There’s more, too. Besides cardiovascular health, the established physical benefits of walking at a moderate pace (about three miles per hour) include:
- Lessened cancer risk
- Reduced mental decline, including dementia
- Lowered chance of heart disease
- Improved joint function
- Stronger bones
- Reduced risk for diabetes
- Energy boost
The benefits of walking extend to mental perks as well. Walking increases the release of mood-enhancing endorphins, including serotonin, which is important for combating depression. Walking can relieve stress, decrease depression, increase creativity, and elevate the walker’s mood. There’s a reason why an angry person is often told to “Walk it off!”
No Time? No Money? No Excuse
Reaping the benefits of walking doesn’t have to take a lot of time. While most experts recommend walking 30 minutes a day five days a week, it’s not cast in stone. The benefits of walking can shine through with as little as 10 minutes of walking a day.
Want to do that recommended 30 minutes, but don’t have the time? Try 10 minutes three times a day. It’s no wonder the Centers for Disease Control calls walking the “most popular aerobic physical activity.”
So, get up and go for a walk. You can go alone, if you have a safe place to do it, but it’s more fun if you find a friend to accompany you. In fact, people who have dogs, studies show, get more exercise. A 2017 study conducted in the United Kingdom revealed that dog owners walk an average of 22 minutes more per day than those who don’t have dogs. Click here for tips on making the most of your outdoor time with Rover: “7 Ways to Turn Your Dog Walks Into Workouts.” See also the useful advice in this story: “How to Turn Your Dog’s Walk Into a Workout.”
Clearly, the benefits of walking extend way beyond getting fresh air and sunshine.
EXERCISE BENEFITS: GET A MOVE ON!
Walking is the most accessible, easiest, and—for some—the most enjoyable exercise. And any type of exercise can make a difference in your health and wellness, both physically and emotionally, as these University Health News posts discuss:
- Best Exercise for Lowering Cholesterol Naturally: Walking or Running?
- Overcome Depression with One Simple Step!
- Aerobic Exercise Boosts Your Cardiovascular Fitness
See also this post, written by Rosanne Leipzig, MD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York: Let’s Get Physical! Exercise Benefits Our Muscles, Mood, and Memory.
Originally published in 2017, this post is regularly updated.
The benefits of walking at any age are well-documented: lower blood pressure, reduced stress, bone and joint health, and reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, and other afflictions.
© Kirsty Pargeter | Dreamstime.com