Walk before you run. Or, just walk. The numerous health benefits of walking are often overlooked or underestimated. “What is the meaning of life?” – It’s the one question as old as humankind. I don’t know about the purpose, but I know what we have become designed for (physically, at least) – and that’s walking.
For millennia, we’ve been mostly walking, but lately, not so much. We need to accept the truth that sitting for too long even in the most comfortable chair is detrimental to our health. It’s a disease. Walking is the cure.
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Everyone’s familiar with midlife crisis as a psychological issue when we start to evaluate our accomplishments. However, our physical condition can affect it a lot as well.
The Physical Activity Guidelines report for adult Americans recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week for health benefits.
Between 45 and 60+, we start to recognize that our body is on the downslope. It may be slow, but it’s there.
Did you know that your walking speed may give some clues about your overall health? Research has shown that slow walking often relates to physical and mental decline.
We can’t reverse the wheel of time. But, as we grow older, physical activity becomes more important and is one of the best tools to slow down the aging process.
Walking is an exceptional activity to support your health and prevent health issues and injuries. Add a few more exercises into the mix, and you will feel rejuvenated. Your mental health will also improve with a daily walk.
What’s Good About Walking
Many different types of exercises including walking provide tremendous benefits and improve your bodily and mental health. So, is physical activity the solution to the sedentary lifestyle?
You may exercise a couple of times a week and you’ll feel the difference. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is particularly popular as it brings results and it doesn’t take long although it is intense. But don’t we all enjoy short and compressed versions of anything, these days?
These fitness routines will help you, no doubt about it. But, if you work out two or three times a week, and spend the rest of your time sitting around, it won’t be very impactful.
That’s where walking comes in. It can provide a low-impact activity each and every day. Although, five days a week is also great to get started.
It won’t tire your muscles too much. It’s also pretty much an injury risk-free activity. Most importantly, it comes with dozens of health benefits especially if walking outside in the countryside.
Let’s check out the most significant health benefits of brisk walking.
Walking Burns Calories
A 30-minute walk burns around 150 calories. Okay, it’s not the most effective workout to burn calories. But, it’s almost effortless. And simple math reveals every week over 1000 calories are eaten away, all things, like diet, being equal.
It depends on your age and fitness level as to how intensively you start.
You can easily incorporate it into your (busy) schedule. No need for fitness gear, no sweat, but it’s still a useful workout.
Brisker walks or uphill walks will help you burn more calories for a healthy weight.
Naturally, the more effort you put into your daily walk, the more briskly you walk the more body fat you’ll lose to get to a healthy weight.
Strengthens the Heart & Improves Blood Circulation
A sedentary lifestyle, along with obesity and tobacco is the biggest enemy of contracting any heart disease issues. Walking, as well as any other aerobic exercise or physical activity, makes your heart more efficient.
A 15-minute brisk walk is already enough to reduce risk and improve your cardiovascular health.
Our heart is the pump that keeps our circulatory system running. Walking elevates the heart rate and more blood, nutrients, and oxygen run around your body. It helps blood vessels to stay flexible and reduces the risk of high blood pressure.
Your blood pressure and circulation should improve and consequently, you are healthier with less risk of blood clots and overall less risk of heart disease.
Reduces Risk of Cancer as we Age
This was a surprise to me but as recently as September 2022 the Journal of the American Medical Association published findings on a study that they had been running for 7 years which strongly pointed to “more steps” meaning less risk for not just heart disease but all forms of cancer.
This was especially relevant for midlifers as the study used participants between 40 and 79. And suggested that higher intensity of walking may well yield even more positive results.
Can Help Lower Blood Sugar
No magic here. Our muscles use glucose (sugar in our bloodstream) even for moderate activities such as walking. Therefore, regular walks are helpful to keep blood sugar levels at bay.
Walking, especially uphill, is also a highly recommended activity for people with diabetes.
Walking Tones and Strengthens Muscles
Walking can tone and strengthen your muscles, mostly your thighs, glutes, and calves. If you swing your arms, your upper body will have a workout too.
You won’t get six-pack abs from walking, but even moderate physical activity is good for muscles.
Keep in mind that every year after around the age of 30 we lose 1% of muscle. So by the time we’re 60, that’s a lot of muscles that are gone and need to be maintained or regenerated.
Slow Down Bone Loss
Like our muscles, as we age, our bone density decreases and it does so by about 1% every year after puberty. It’s a natural process, but exercise can significantly slow it down or halt its progress.
Walking is on the list of helpful activities. For even more results, include more intensive training. Up the ante with jogging, dancing, stair-climbing, and resistance exercises. How you incorporate these physical activities will be measured against your age and fitness level.
Walking Keeps Your Joints Strong
Walking appears to be quite easy. Nevertheless, it supports and improves the health of your joints.
A majority of our joints have no direct blood supply. It’s a joint fluid that supplies nutrients and removes waste products from joints. Walking causes compression which allows a sort of “lubrication” and nutrient supply.
Flexible joints along with a good muscle structure help with balance and coordination.
Improved Lung Function
Regular brisk walks will increase your lung capacity. Furthermore, walking will strengthen your lungs. Whether you’re healthy or you have some lung condition, walking is a beneficial activity.
Walking Is Good for Your Brain
While it may sound like a stretch, it’s not. Walking increases brain blood flow and supply of valuable hormones and proteins.
A simple exercise like walking briskly or similar physical activity encourages cells in the brain to multiply. It also helps to increase the number of interconnections in the synaptic network by increasing the blood flow.
Walking slows down your mental decline, improves your mental health and your brain’s ability to focus and solve problems.
Take a Walk to Improve Your Mood
Walking releases endorphins – the happiness hormone.
And a favorite of mine is neurotransmitters. Like dopamine and serotonin, levels increase during exercise. These are “drugs” that are responsible for creating that happy place.
It’s not a magical cure, but it’s beyond any doubt that walking boosts energy levels and improves the mood. It alleviates stress and reduces anxiety.
You Will Sleep Better
You don’t sleep very well? Take a walk each day as walking relates to better sleep at night. It appears to be more true for women. You’ll probably fall asleep faster. But, more importantly, the quality of sleep will improve.
If you’re inactive you’ll see positive effects almost immediately after a regular routine of walking. Make it a daily routine. Well, you won’t “see” it, but you get the point.
Walking Can Boost Your Immune System
It’s not a vaccine, but it helps. Seriously, regular walking increases the activation of several types of immune cells.
As a result, you’re more likely to avoid upper respiratory infections, colds, and flu and other unmentionable corona-based horrors.
Regular Walks. A Physical Activity That Can Extend Life
It’s another strong claim, but it’s backed by science and research into walking, generally moving and longevity. It works even better for those who do it regularly and often and do it briskly.
Once you get into a walking routine you won’t look back. And a daily routine is even better.
There was a fascinating study of an Amish community that had all the metrics that point to societal health and well-being. They were fitted with step counters and on average the men did 18000 and the women did 14000 steps a day.
On their rest days, they still averaged 10000 steps. That study along with earlier research on a group of Japanese men and women gave us the 10K standard steps per day that we hear so much about now.
Is 10,000 steps the ideal?
It may come as a surprise, but no, 10,000 steps a day is not a science-based figure. It originates from a successful marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer, Manpo-kei launched in the 1960s.
In Japanese, it literally means 10,000-step meter.
So, what’s a perfect daily goal?
There’s no such thing. You will reap some benefits starting with 5,000 steps a day. And the more you walk the better it gets. Check out what the American College of Sports Medicine says about your daily steps.
Simply put, walking reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, strokes, and increases life expectancy.
How to Start a Regular Walking Routine
Walking is an easy activity, but it may not be easy to start a fitness routine. We are prone to inertia – if we are at rest, we’ll try to stay at rest until some force gets us moving.
The American College of Sports Medicine provide a handy leaflet on starting a walking program.
For starters check out our list of benefits provided by regular walking. And then, there are a few tips and tricks to help you get there sooner and easier.
- Take a walk on your lunch break. Make it a daily routine.
- Park your car a few blocks away from your office.
- Use stairs instead of elevators.
- Try to include nature and parks. It’s much more enjoyable if you walk through the forest instead of a concrete jungle.
- Invite your friends or family members to walk with you. It’s two-in-one: you’ll spend more time with people you love or like while getting some exercise.
- Keep it interesting. Set some goals like step-number, or visit different parts of the area. Just start walking and you’ll come up with ideas of your own.
For longer walks, the material next to your skin should be comfortable and be able to wick away sweat keeping you dry and even temperature. Consider wearing thin layers of wicking shirts.
Walking shoes and proper gear can make all the difference between a pleasant and dreadful walking experience. Even more important if you decide to go hiking over indeterminate terrain.
Stretching After Walking
Don’t forget the golden rule of any workout – stretch afterward. Flexibility is as important as strength and that’s why we need to stretch regularly especially as we get on in years.
But there are several more benefits of stretching after walking or, indeed, any physical activity like…
- Improves posture
- Reduces bodily aches & stresses
- Calms the mind
- Reduces injury
- Better performance
The best time for stretching is when your muscles are still warm and pliable. A 5-minute after-walk stretch is enough to maintain your flexibility, range of motion and avoid injury.
Stretching is an easy discipline to work into a daily routine whether you’re exercising or not.
Improving the Benefits of Walking
As we’ve seen walking helps us to be healthier, reduce the risk of heart disease and in so many other ways. But, the best part is that you can pretty easily get an upgrade.
Walking in a Group
As a certified personal trainer I used to take a group regularly for an organized sojourn around my area. It was always something to look forward to and which, I think, everyone enjoyed.
All the advantages of walking for our health can be increased by walking as a group, studies have shown. So join a walking group or get together with friends and form one.
In Canada, it is the Canadian Volkssport Federation (CVF) found at their website here.
Walking in the UK is rambling and the Ramblers Association has a long and interesting history going back to the early 1930s.
Up the Pace
It’s the simplest and the most effective way to get more out of walking. Brisk walking elevates your heart rate more and adds to the benefits of walking. It’s a little bit more demanding but it comes with increased advantages.
At first, try increasing your speed for a few minutes and then tone it back. Interval of very brisk and normal speed can be very effective.
If you can afford it aim for longer walks. The more you walk, the less time you’ll spend sitting doing nothing. It’s easy to do it, you just need extra time.
Plan the route ahead and do it the same day with friends. Maybe treat yourself after to a well-deserved lunch.
Head for the Hills
It’s another way to put more effort and reap more benefits. Uphill and downhill walking activates different muscle groups. Your heart and lungs will work harder and the more muscles you involve, the better.
They can play havoc on the knees and thighs so make sure you are prepared. You should do a warm up before starting out.
Hiking over uneven terrain can be great fun and there are some great hiking routes all over the country. Check some of the best.
Enter an Event
Walking events are gaining popularity.
Walking events are great to break the routine of doing nothing, test yourself, and promote a healthy fitness routine. Some of them are charity events, so it’s nice to help the cause as well.
And because of restrictive organized outings, there are even virtual events you can do. Check some out here.
Active vacation is a great way to recharge your batteries. Especially if your work is desk-bound. The combination of adventure and healthy activity can become an unforgettable experience.
Whether you choose to hike a part of the Appalachian Trail or any other hiking trail, there’ll be plenty of nature to see. You’ll walk more than ever releasing copious amounts of endorphins and returning totally refreshed.
The Benefits of Walking – Wrapping Up
We live in a hectic and complicated world. We work hard and struggle to gain all kinds of commodities and conveniences. But the greatest riches are often at our hands even if we don’t notice them. Like love. Or walking.
This simple and easy activity, which helped us become the most sophisticated creatures on Earth, still comes with tremendous benefits.
Regular walking, especially out in the Great Outdoors, improves almost every aspect of our health and well-being. And yet, we walk less and less with each new generation.
So, it’s easy to make the decision. Get back to yourself, get back to your origins, get back to nature and enjoy the benefits of walking.