25 Amazing Health Benefits of Walking
WALKING IS ONE OF THE BEST FORMS OF EXERCISE AND SAFE TO DO AMID THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC.
With gyms closed and most of us spending our days inside, staying active amid the coronavirus pandemic can be a challenge. But there's at least one form of exercise we can be doing, and it just happens to be one of the most effective there is. Walking is one of the easiest ways to get yourself moving, and while the act is simple, the health benefits of walking are anything but. Walking has been shown to improve everything from heart and lung health to brain power and memory.
And walking is a safe activity during this time of social distancing, provided you keep a safe distance from anyone else outside, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds. In fact, walking is still encouraged! You can do it alone, with members of your household, or even with friends who are willing to stay six-feet apart. No matter how you decide to walk, you'll be reaping the benefits laid out in these studies we've rounded up. Read on, and make time today for a stroll.
Walking can help your brain flow.
Every step you take, you deliver more blood to your brain, according to 2017 research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The researchers found that the pressure of each step's impact sends waves through the arteries that can significantly increase blood supply to the brain. They speculate that walking more could improve cognitive performance and increase well-being. And if you want to know the truth about staying active, make sure you're aware of The 21 Biggest Exercise Myths, Debunked by Science and Health Experts.
It protects you from heart failure.
In 2018, after American College of Cardiology researchers had looked at the walking habits of 89,000 post-menopausal women over the course of 10 years, they found that when it comes to walking, more is better. The more often, longer, and faster the women walked, the lower their risk for heart failure. Each factor was independently associated with a lower risk, but the biggest benefits were from those who combined all three, walking briskly for at least 40 minutes two or three times a week.
Even a little bit of walking has health benefits.
Even without hitting the CDC-recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise (or 75 minutes of working out vigorously), walking can do big things for your health. Walking a little—even if it's less than the recommended amount—is still linked with a 26 percent lower risk of dying from any cause compared to never exercising, according to a 10-year study of 139,000 older adults published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2017. Walking longer was associated with even better outcomes, but it does show that some activity is better than none.
And it can have even bigger benefits than running.
Think hitting the pavement isn't worth it if you aren't all-out running? Think again. Walking might protect against heart disease even better than running does, according to a 2013 study in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. When 33,000 runners and 15,000 walkers burned the same amount of energy, based on the distance they covered, the walking group reduced their risk of coronary heart disease by 9.3 percent, compared to 4.5 percent for the runners. They also had better improvements in their risks of first-time high blood pressure and cholesterol, and a slightly lowered risk of developing diabetes.
Walking eases back pain.
A long walk might be just antidote for an aching back. A 2012 study of adults with chronic lower back pain, published in Clinical Rehabilitation, found that a six-week walking program, which involved working up from a 20-minute stroll to a 40-minute walk, was just as effective for pain relief as an expensive strengthening rehab program. At the end of their programs, both groups were able to walk farther, with reduced back pain. And if you're struggling with back pain while social distancing, discover The Single Best Way to Ease Your Lower Back Pain.
It boosts your chances of getting pregnant.
If you've been having trouble starting a family, start by getting out of the bedroom—and out of the house. About 1,200 women who'd had one or two pregnancy losses tried to get pregnant for six menstrual cycles, and reported whether they'd been successful. Walking was the strongest predictor of conception among women with high BMIs, according to the 2018 study published in the journal Human Reproduction. Overweight and obese participants who walked at least 10 minutes at a time improved their chances of getting pregnant by 82 percent.
Certain strides can lift your mood.
You might have a naturally perkier gait when you're feeling happy, but a 2015 study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found the opposite is true, too: A happy walk brings a happy mood. Volunteers walked on a treadmill with a gauge measuring how happy their walk was. The participants didn't know what the gauge meant but were told to adjust their stance so it would move to the left (sadder) or the right (happier) while different words appeared. Those who ended up with a jolly step remembered more positive words (like "pretty"), while the ones with a downtrodden trot had a better memory of negative words (like "afraid"). Putting some pep in your step could change your mindset so you focus on the good in life. And if you're struggling with anxiety during the pandemic, learn these 30 Science-Backed Ways to Relax When You're Totally Stressed Out.
Walking reduces the risk of death in people with kidney disease.
If you've got chronic kidney disease, it pays to get moving. A study of 6,300 kidney disease patients in China found that those who walked for exercise cut their risk of death by a third. The study, published in 2014 in the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology, found that more walking meant even bigger benefits. Patients who walked seven or more times a week were 59 percent less likely to die during the yearlong study, and were 44 percent less likely to need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
It wards off dementia.
Walking doesn't just clear your head—it gives your mind a lasting boost. In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, adults with Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment took four 30-minute walks a week. By the time three months had passed, they were better at remembering groups of words. Plus, those with mild cognitive impairments showed improvements in parts of their brains associated with memory loss.
A walking routine will naturally make you more active.
Commit to a walking program now, and it could have health benefits even if you don't stick to it. For a series of studies in England, the results of which were published in 2018 in PLOS Medicine, inactive adults were given pedometers and exercise advice and told to start a 12-week walking program. Three to four years later, the ones who'd started the walking programs took an extra 400 to 600 steps every day and did an extra half-hour of moderate or vigorous physical activity, compared to patients who had never been told to start walking. Emphasize a daily walk, and you might find yourself racking up the steps for the rest of the day, too. And for more ways to stay active as you get older, check out The 15 Best Exercises for People Over 50.
Walking reduces side effects in cancer patients.
Inviting a friend with prostate cancer for a socially distanced walk together could improve some of his outcomes if he's up for it. Brisk walking and other non-vigorous activity is linked with more energy, less depression, and healthier weight, according to a 2018 study of 51,000 men being treated for prostate cancer, published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.
It could lead to your next great idea.
Stuck on a problem at work? Get away from your home office and take a few laps around the block. In a series of experiments, college students were given creative thinking tests either while walking, sitting, or being pushed in a wheelchair outdoors. In every trial, the walkers came up with more creative solutions than the seated volunteers. The results, published in 2014 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, showed that even after the same individuals switched from walking to sitting, their most novel ideas came when they were moving.
And it protects against "sitting disease."
Working out at home every day? Optimistic. Standing up and moving once an hour? Realistic. Thankfully, even a quick jaunt around the house could be enough to offset the health hazards of too much sitting, according to a 2015 study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Looking at daily activity data from 3,200 adults wearing accelerometers, researchers found that replacing just two minutes of sitting each hour with walking or another light activity cut risk of death by 33 percent. The same didn't hold true when participants just stood up and didn't move. Consider this your excuse to get up from your desk and step outside.
Walking will keep you from replaying your regrets.
If you can't stop thinking about something negative, tell those toxic thoughts to take a hike—literally. A 2015 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America had participants take a 90-minute walk through a natural environment or a city. Those who had stepped into nature reported ruminating less and had less activity in brain regions associated with mental illness.
It can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Yes, there are ways to protect yourself from breast cancer, and walking is one of them. A study of more than 73,000 postmenopausal women—published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2013—found that those whose only physical activity was walking cut their risk of breast cancer by 14 percent by moving seven hours or more per week, compared to those who only walked three hours or less.
A walk in the park can chill you out.
Location, location, location. Walking in green spaces could give you a bigger mood boost than simply strolling around the block. In a 2015 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, adults took a 25-minute walk through three different locations in Edinburgh, Scotland: a shopping street, a commercial area, and a green path. Meanwhile, a device measured brain activity to gauge their emotions. When the walkers were in surrounded by green space, they were less frustrated, engaged, and aroused, and more meditative.
Walking is a natural antidepressant.
Resist the urge to curl up on the couch when you're feeling down—walking is a known way of boosting your mood. A notable 2005 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise had adults with major depressive disorder start a 30-minute program, either walking briskly or resting quietly. After 16 weeks, both groups decreased feelings of depression, distress, fatigue, tension, confusion, and anger, but the walkers saw additional improvements: better senses of well-being and vigor.
And it can help you get over a fight.
Quarantining with a partner may have you arguing more than usual. Thankfully, going on a walk together after a big fight could help you work things out, according to a 2017 study in American Psychologist. For one thing, you'll each get the individual benefits of stress reduction and mood boosts. A stroll can also boost rapport because walking partners tend to move in synchrony—and moving to a new location can help change your mindset and spark resolution. Gives a new meaning to "moving on," huh?
Walking is a relaxing form of physical activity.
Jumping into an online workout isn't exactly the most relaxing way to spend an evening, but walking is calming and active. A study of adults with high blood pressure, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2015, found that walking in a forest reduced heart rate. It also gave participants a sense of inner peace, compared to volunteers who'd walked in an urban area. Walking among the trees also offered bigger gains in feelings of comfort, relaxation, and vigor, while decreasing senses of tension, hostility, depression, and fatigue.
And it's is a natural opportunity to squeeze in some meditation.
You've heard of the benefits of meditation, but realistically, it can be hard to find the motivation to sit quietly and do nothing. Combine it with a light workout, though, and you might finally follow through. A trial on elderly adults found that those who completed 30-minute mindful walking sessions reported they liked the sessions and continued on their own, even after the monthlong program ended, as documented in a 2017 study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.
You can get quality time with your dog on walks.
Your dog might enjoy having you home more often, but he gets stir crazy, too, and can use those walks around the neighborhood. Stepping out with your pooch doesn't just let him stretch his legs—you get benefits, too. A 2017 study of retirees published in The Gerontologist found that owning a dog alone didn't give any health boosts, but walking a dog regularly was linked with lower BMI, fewer chronic health conditions, and fewer doctor visits.
Walking keeps your lungs healthy.
Walking might not leave you huffing and puffing like other workouts—but in some ways, that's a good thing. A study of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, published in the journal Respirology in 2014, found that those who walked the least were more likely to be hospitalized. The researchers concluded that walking as little as about two to four miles a day could help keep COPD patients out of the hospital. And even if you don't have COPD, lung health is especially important amid a respiratory disease pandemic.
It can steady your blood sugar.
Time your walk right, and you could ward off that post-meal dip in energy. A 2013 study in Diabetes Care of older adults at risk for pre-diabetes found that participants' blood sugar stayed steadier when they took walks during the day. The most significant results came when they took a 15-minute walk after each of their three meals a day, rather than squeezing all their steps in during one 45-minute bout.
You can get an education as you walk.
Paying attention to a podcast host or an audiobook narrator can be a challenge when you're lounging at home, but it's easy enough to stay focused on a walk. Pick an interesting book or podcast, and you could learn something new while stretching your legs. In a 2011 study on college students published in the journal Computers & Education, researchers found that students who got their information from a podcast performed just as well as their peers who attended a lecture. Get lost in a good book, and you just might find a "quick walk around the block" turns into a 30-minute workout.
Walking adds years to your life.
Ultimately, this is what it comes down to. If you want to live longer, taking a walk is an easy place to start. And it doesn't take much! Walking briskly for up to 75 minutes each week adds 1.8 years to life expectancy, according to a 2012 study of 655,000 adults published in PLOS Medicine. Squeezing in 450 minutes per week led to even bigger gains: four-and-a-half years. So stop staying cooped up at home, and get on your feet.
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