Walking is by far the most underrated form of exercise available. It’s something that most of us have had the privilege of doing since we were around 1 year old. We do it automatically, without thinking. Everyone thinks of running when we think of exercise or lifting weights or attending a spin class. However, walking is a great way not only of burning fat, but of improving our overall fitness and wellbeing. The benefits of walking cover all the physical and mental benefits of exercise. However, it doesn't require the same commitment as going to the gym every day or the same effort as going for a run.
You can even use walking as a form of transport and it still counts towards your improved health.
In America, walking has become the latest trend. Communities have opened up walking areas for people to go to. If you look online there are tonnes of forums and groups of people looking for walking buddies. So why is walking becoming more popular? Well, let’s take a look at some reasons.
It’s Super Easy
Walking is quite easily the simplest form of exercise out there. We walk to the kitchen and we walk to the car. I walk home from work every day and walk to the gym and walk to the shops. Everyone is able to do it regardless of your age, gender, wealth or fitness level. Walking is intrinsic to mankind and differentiates us from all the other animals.
You can fit walking into your day so easily. My walk home from work is simply the way I get home. There isn’t a direct bus and I have to get home somehow so I walk. This gets me home and keeps me healthy. It also doesn’t take any extra time out of my day than I would need to spend anyway. I have to get home and it takes as long as it takes.
There’s also no equipment required for walking. You don’t need to invest in weights or a bike or any kind of gear. I walk home in the same clothes I worked in all day and the same shoes I do everything in. You can walk in anything you feel comfortable in, be that active wear, jeans or a dress. Just maybe wear flat shoes with that dress so that walking is a bit more comfortable. All you need is your feet to walk on and place to walk.
It’s also free! Since you don’t need any equipment, you just go outside and walk, it has no financial tag. It actually burns calories for zero money, unlike wine or chocolate, which are used for the same mood boost after a hard day.
See? Super easy!
Walking Reduces Body Fat
While walking isn’t going to get you a ripped body, it is going to help you lose more body fat than sitting on the couch. It doesn’t build muscle or improve athletic performance, but it does burn fat, which has significant health benefits on its own. You can also alter your walk to get it to burn more fat during the process. The health benefits of walking to reduce fat are the same as running, you just need to do it for longer.
Walking Improves Circulation
There’s a whole venous system within our calves and feet that’s formed by the veins, muscles and valves in our legs. This is called the secondary heart and pumps blood back through the veins to the heart. Walking helps keep this system working effectively and lowers the risk of blood clots. A study done at Indiana University reported that short walks of just 3-5 minutes a day actually reversed the effects of long hours of sitting. The benefits of walking to our circulatory system will make add years to life and help the load of our hearts too.
This kind of improved circulation can alleviate some of the symptoms of varicose veins, making them less visible. As well as alleviating symptoms that are already present, walking can reduce the onset of such conditions in those of us who are predisposed to having them. So get walking to keep your legs looking awesome.
Walking Is Good For Your Bones
As a low-impact exercise, walking is good for building bone density. As we age, this becomes more important in avoiding osteoporosis. A Nurses’ Health study in 2004 showed that the nurses who walked for at least 4 hours a week, saw a 40% reduced risk of hip fractures.
Weightlifting running and jumping are also great activity for increasing bone density, but it seems that walking is an easy way to get the same results, In fact, a 2011 study of knee cartilage found that light exercise is actually better for people already at risk of osteoarthritis than more intense exercises.
Walking most days can also help to alleviate the pain associated with bone conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. It produces an analgesic effect that reduces the symptoms of these inflammation.
As well as increasing bone density, walking keeps our core and lower body strong and helps to maintain a good sense balance. These things deteriorate as we age so walking regularly is an easy way to help keep them strong and prevent falls when we’re older.
Walking Helps Control Type-II Diabetes
Pre-diabetic patients who started walking regularly and reduced their bodyweight by just 5% reduced their risk of developing Type-II diabetes by 58%. In 2013, a study published in Diabetes Journal showed that walking for 15 minutes after eating regulated blood sugar levels and did so more than walking 45 minutes all at once. So take a stroll after dinner and avoid that sugar spike and food coma that often comes as part of our evenings.
Walking Improves Cardiovascular Health
Like all exercise, there are huge health benefits of walking for your heart. A meta-analysis (loads of studies that are studied and put together into one set of results) of data from 1970-2007 found that walking as little as 5.5 miles per week at just 2 miles/hour reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by 31%. Walking at a pace that gets your heart rate to around 70% of its maximum gives it a great workout. Your heart’s a muscle after all and the more you exercise it, the better it performs.
Walking Energises You And Helps You Get More Done
The benefits of walking extend beyond just physical fitness too. Taking a brisk walk is one of the best ways to naturally boost your energy without coffee or chocolate. It increases circulation and therefore improves the oxygen supply to your body and your brain, increasing your overall energy by 20%.
As well as boosting energy, walking boost creative thinking. In 2014, subjects at Stanford were given creative thinking tests while walking on a treadmill, walking through the university campus or sitting. They were to come up with creative, unusual uses for objects like car tyres or come up with metaphors that meant the same as one given, but were different. For example, an answer to “a budding cocoon” could be “an egg hatching”. The subjects who were walking did significantly better on these tests, sometimes by as much as 45%. However, they were asked also to find the word that connected 3 other words, like red for wine, rose and apple and the walking subjects scored worse. One of the authors of this study, Oppezzo, speculates that walking opens up the brain to creative thinking so it is not able to focus so well on puzzles with a single answer.
Walking Helps You Remember Things Better
In 2010, Neurology published a study showing that participants who walked more than 72 blocks each week actually had an increase in the grey matter in their brain. Dementia is a deterioration of grey matter so walking, and exercise in general, helps to stave off the onset of dementia. Walking regularly increases neural connections between different parts of the brain that we usually see decline in functionality with age.
This theory was backed up by another study published a year later in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This study found that if the subjects walked for at least 40 minutes, three times a week, every week over a year, there was a average increase of 2% in the size of their hippocampus. The hippocampus is the section of the brain that controls memory function and emotions.
Further to this, Nagamatsu, et al. tested the memory of elderly women aged between 70 and 80 before and after assigning them randomly to an exercise group. They used balance and toning exercises as the control and aerobic and strength training as the two experimental groups. The tests showed that the experimental groups had a significant improvement in memory over the control group after 6 month. So it’s never too late to get your walking shoes out and start working out your brain.
Walking Makes You Happier
Walking outdoors, especially in green areas helps to encourage positive emotions in people. There are also other benefits of walking outdoors. Spending time in the sun helps to stave off SAD in the winter and get you some vitamin D. If you’re able to get somewhere that you can walk barefoot that’s even better. This helps you absorb ions from the ground and exposes you to new bacterial ecosystems that are essential to our immune system and digestive system.
Getting some time away to walk and think helps us make sense of our day. It helps avoid feeling so overwhelmed by life the next day as we’ve had time to process things without adding more data. It can also be a chance to engage in a social situation if you decide to walk with friends or with a walking community. This social engagement is important to our sense of wellbeing. Humans are a social species and we need that connection to other people to function at our best.
A Quick Summary
The health benefits of walking include all those of exercise without the sweat, blood and tears of a hard workout. It’s an activity that’s available to everyone and the benefits are seen almost immediately. If you’re just starting out with walking, take it slow. Build up your distances and time. Make sure you have good walking posture (link - walking techniques) and comfortable shoes. Most importantly though, have fun and enjoy the activity and the benefits of walking.
If you want to get started walking, but you're not sure how to go about it, try getting an activity tracker. This way you can keep track of your steps and distance. Then you can set goals each day or week and track your progress! I've put together a free PDF with the top 10 choices on it for you. Just click the button to get it.