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How walking benefits health: walking to wellness

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

For those who do HIIT classes, run ultramarathons or lift weights like a pro throughout the week, walking might seem mundane, or just something not worth your time. But the truth is, walking is one of the best forms of exercise you can do. After all, weren't we designed to do just that - walk? Regardless of your age, one of the simplest yet most effective ways to maintain a healthy weight, promote joint strength, and increase longevity (amongst lots of other things) is by walking regularly - experts universally acknowledge that walking should be part of everyone's daily routine. In this article, we talk about how walking benefits health, as well as the best ways to integrate it into your life.

Take a walk on the healthy side

For many people, walking is not particularly appealing; it's dubbed an activity most suitable for older people, it just doesn't yield results 'fast enough', and some believe it's simply too time consuming. This is of course only one side of the story.

The truth is, walking every day can bring about a host of benefits, for both our physical and mental well-being. After all, our bodies were expertly designed to move and groove throughout the day, all whilst standing on two feet. According to Patricia Kramer - an anthropology professor:

"We’re actually very energetically efficient at walking and standing. That’s a good clue that selection has worked on us for millions of years to make us good at this.”

And not only does walking promote joint strength and keep those large, stabilising muscles in check, but it can also help to stave off obesity, heart disease, and other pesky health issues. If that weren't enough, studies have suggested that walks in nature can actually decrease stress hormones, chase away anxiety, and brighten mood while boosting cognitive function.

How walking benefits health

It's no surprise that humans have been walking for thousands of years; it's just in our genes to stay active. Not a keen walker? Below we will change you mind by providing you with a number of incredible reasons to integrate walking into your daily routine.

It improves your mood

It's not all about the physical benefits when it comes to walking. Walking is an excellent way to boost your mental health, according to many studies which demonstrate that walking can help alleviate anxiety, depression, negative moods, and social withdrawal while enhancing self-esteem. In fact, by aiming for thirty minutes of brisk walking or moderate-intensity exercise three times a week, studies show that it is a highly effective method for simply improving your mood.

Where some might reach for the wine or munch on a few squares of dark chocolate after a hard day at work, a walk around the block might be more effective in improving your mood and it's also a zero-calorie strategy.

The mood boosting effects of walking are of course especially true if you're surrounded by nature or sunlight, as studies show that this has a positive impact on the nervous system. If you're someone who suffers from the dark and cold of the winter season, a walk could be especially helpful!

It helps you maintain a healthy weight

Everyone's version of a walk is a little different. Some live in big cities and spend their walks weaving in and out of people, others spend their thirty minutes amongst fields in the countryside. Regardless of where you are able to fit in your steps, walking is an effective way to burn those calories, which in turn helps with weight loss or maintenance.

Of course the amount of calories burned during your walk depends on various factors such as your walking speed, the distance covered, whether the terrain is flat or uphill, and your weight. To get an accurate estimate of your calorie burn, you can utilise a calorie calculator, or refer to a chart for a general approximation. All that really matters however is that you get on your feet and make the time!

Itching to up your calorie burn? Integrating 10,000 steps into your day is an amazing way of keeping off the weight or maintaining your ideal weight, by burning extra calories and by preventing muscle loss (which is particularly important as we get older). Not able to fit in 10,000? Even a swift 20 minute daily walk has its benefits.

It improves your heart health

If a wonderful mood and a fit looking body aren't enough to persuade you to get on your feet, maybe your heart heath can persuade you. According to research, engaging in a 30-minute walk for five days a week at minimum can reduce the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease by about 19%. However, if you decide to increase the duration or distance of your daily walks, your risk reduction may further improve.

What's more, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine also found that those who walk enough to meet physical activity guidelines have a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular events (such as stroke or heart attack) when compared to those who don't regularly exercise. That's pretty significant stuff.

One other way in which daily walking might help you to achieve a healthy heart is by reducing your blood pressure. Research has indicated that increasing your daily steps by 1,000 can lower your systolic blood pressure by a massive .45 points. For instance, if you take 10,000 daily steps, your systolic blood pressure is expected to be 2.25 points lower than someone who only walks 5,000 daily steps. Looking for a great way to start protecting your body now and into the future? This might just be your new activity.

It reduces your stress levels

When you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, taking a walk can help you feel more relaxed. This is widely known, but did you know just how affective it is?

Essentially, walking reduces the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body, making you feel less frazzled and more at ease. In fact, a 2018 study published in Health Promotion Perspectives showed that just 10 minutes of walking can reduce anxiety and depression, and boost focus and creativity. So let's say you're under pressure at work and really feeling the weight. A short 10 minute break from your desk might not only help you reduce your cortisol levels, but it might actually help you focus better once you arrive back at your desk. Worth knowing, we think!

To reap the most benefits however, it's also worth noting that walking in nature can be particularly impactful, when compared to walking in the city. In fact, it's so significant that a 60-minute walk in natural surroundings has actually been seen to lower activity in the brain regions responsible for processing stress, whereas a walk in an urban environment doesn't produce the same effect. Feeling the pressure? It might be time to take a trip to the forest!

It improves your sleep

When talking about how walking benefits health, one shouldn't miss the benefits it has on sleep. It turns out that there's some pretty good evidence out there to suggest that walking during the day can help you sleep better at night.

Exercising regularly can improve sleep quality, and walking is no different - it's a great form of exercise that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. By walking during the day, you also get the light you need in order to regulate your melatonin levels throughout the day and keep you on a strong sleep/wake cycle. Studies have shown that regular exercise and keeping active in general, including walking, can also improve sleep in people with insomnia and reduce sleep apnea symptoms.

However, it is worth noting that the timing and intensity of your walks may influence their effect on your sleep. For some people, exercising late in the day can interfere with sleep, keeping them awake and energised throughout the evening when they should be winding down. So ultimately, it's really important to listen to your body and find a walking routine that works best for you!

It can boost your brain power

Walking for better brain function? It's a thing! Research in the area of brain power and walking is expanding rapidly. For example, one great study found that after briskly walking for one hour, three times a week, the decision-making regions of the brain in walkers were more efficient than those of individuals who attended educational seminars. Pretty incredible to think!

Other research has shown that physical exercise, including walking, can boost brain function in older women. Experts believe that one reason for these benefits may be the increase in blood flow to the brain that occurs during exercise. So walking not only gets your feet moving but also makes your brain work better, too!

walking on the beach dunes

It helps you live longer

The benefit of all benefits: walking helps you to live longer. According to recent research, even if you don't have enough time for a prolonged walk every day, you can still reap some health benefits and prolong your life.

A study recently published in JAMA Network Open, suggests that walking 8,000 steps once or twice a week may help prolong your life. The study aimed to investigate whether individuals could experience health benefits by engaging in intense walking on a few days of the week. To determine this, the researchers analysed the daily step-count data of 3,100 adults in the United States between 2005 and 2006. Ten years later, the participants' mortality data was examined.

The researchers discovered that individuals who walked 8,000 or more steps once or twice a week were 14.9 percent less likely to pass away within ten years compared to those who did not meet this threshold. Moreover, participants who walked 8,000 steps or more three to seven days a week had a 16.5 percent reduced risk of mortality.

It makes other goals seem possible

In this article, we have looked at how walking directly benefits health, but there are some indirect benefits that walking has, that can lead to other healthier habits.

To most of us, walking comes naturally; it is in our nature. It is for this reason that many people are successful in integrating walking into their daily routines and creating consistency with it.

And when you have managed to establish this regular routine, you're more likely to begin adopting other healthy behaviours. By setting and achieving your simple walking goals, you're more likely to stick to your other health related goals and most important keep on track!

woman walking

How should I integrate walking into my life?

Many of us drive to work, take the train or perhaps work from home. Others among us simply lead a lifestyle that is a little too sedentary. Looking for some ways to integrate walking into your life? Here are some ideas to get you started:

Start with small steps

Take short walks during your lunch break, or walk to places that are within walking distance instead of driving or taking public transport.

Set goals for yourself

You can set step goals for the day and gradually increase them over time. Use a pedometer or a step tracking app to keep track of your progress. Soon, you'll be craving the steps.

Walk and talk

Take walking meetings with colleagues, friends or family instead of sitting at a desk or in a coffee shop. You'll be surprised how much you can get done whilst you're on the go!

Get off one stop earlier

If you use public transport, get off one stop earlier and walk the extra distance. Every little helps and it will all add up!

Take the stairs

Instead of using elevators or escalators, take the stairs whenever possible.

Walk with a buddy

Walking with a friend can be a fun and motivating way to incorporate walking into your routine. It might also keep you accountable.

Join a walking group

You can join a local walking group to meet people with similar interests and stay motivated.

Remember to start slowly and gradually build up your walking routine to avoid injury. And there's no point starting with incredibly lofty goals just to feel like you've failed when you don't achieve them everyday. Start small and work your way up - you're more likely to achieve this way. Also, make sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing when walking, and stay hydrated!

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