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Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise, yet so many people neglect to or don’t incorporate it into daily life. With the many health benefits of walking that exist, we wrote this article to inspire more people to walk daily.
We’ve treasured nightly walks for years now, including before our kids were born. (In fact, I went into labor with my first child while on a nightly walk!)
Even though I work out most days, I often still feel lethargic or have restless legs if I don’t move enough at night. Incorporating a nightly walk helps eliminate these restless feelings before bed.
Thus, walking before bed (or sometime earlier in the day) clearly makes me feel better. Having science back up the benefits of walking doesn’t hurt, however. So, this article will go into not only various studies and research supporting the benefits of walking, but on ways you can alter the intensity of your walking regimen if you so choose.
Whether you need a primary form of exercise, or just a secondary form, walking is a great, healthy addition to your daily routine. That said, let’s delve into the many benefits of walking to get you inspired!
Health Benefits of Walking Outside
Below is a non-exclusive list of some of the health benefits of walking:
Walking can help you lose weight and body fat.
This study showed that overweight women who walked 50-70 minutes, 3 days a week, for 12 weeks lost both abdominal fat and body fat. Another study showed that women who walked over 7,500 miles a day accumulated significantly less abdominal fat than those who walked less.
Thus, the more you walk, the more weight and fat you’re likely to lose. However, even little distances can count. For instance, this study revealed that overweight people who only walked about 12 miles a week (the least amount of activity among participants in the study) still lost weight.
Yet, we should note that the above studies involved overweight participants who were unlikely to regularly engage in moderate-to-rigorous daily activity prior to the studies. Thus, the activity level, however light, may have been a large departure from their normal activity levels. For a person who is already moderately or highly active, simple walking may produce less noticeable results.
Also, as this study points out, expecting dramatic weight loss without dietary changes is unrealistic. In that study, researchers estimated a person may lose 1 pound every 10 weeks (or 5 pounds in 1 year) by increased daily walking distances by 1 to 2 miles over the person’s base distance.
Indeed, with any weight loss goals, diet is more important than activity. This study that combining dietary and exercise changes results in the most weight loss. However, if you strictly compare diet versus exercise for losing weight and body fat, then dietary changes are significantly more important.
Thus, if weight loss is one of the main benefits of walking that you seek, then just maintain realistic expectations that weight loss will come more gradually than abruptly. Make no mistake, how much people walk correlates to body weight and obesity rates, as this study observes, so walking is important. However, the rate at which you lose weight just won’t be as quickly as more vigorous activity types.
If you wanted to increase your rate of weight loss, then you should also significantly alter your dietary habits and/or increase the intensity of your exercise regimen. (See our section, Ways to Increase the Benefits of Walking, below on ways to increase the intensity of walking.)
When I was young and complained of my tummy feeling too full after dinner, my mother would often suggest taking a walk to alleviate the “fullness.” Turns out, her words had wisdom.
This study showed that walking after a meal expedited gastric emptying (i.e. participants’ stomachs emptying contents into the intestines). Walking was more effective for gastric emptying than other methods like drinking an alcoholic digestif or espresso after a meal.
On a related note, another study showed that diabetics who walked for 15 minutes after dinner had lower blood glucose levels during the three hours after their meal than those who walked in the morning or afternoon. Walking in the morning or afternoon produced positive results for glycemic control as well, but less dramatic results than a post-dinner walk.
Thus, you can reap digestive benefits of walking any time of day, but walking right after a meal carries the most benefits. Plus, you may have the added benefit of witnessing a lovely sunset after dinner!
Physical activity is undoubtedly good for your heart. Researchers acknowledge that walking is likely the easiest and least risky form of exercise for people who are sedentary, and that walking can lower a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly with diabetics.
Yet the degree of activity intensity can dictate how great of a benefit you get against cardiovascular disease. For instance, this study determined participants who only engaged in light activity (e.g. walking) did not reduce their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to participants who engaged in heavy or vigorous activity (e.g. climbing stairs, hiking, jogging, swimming, tennis, badminton, squash, and heavy digging).
Thus, research doesn’t seem definitive on how much walking you should do, or how intense it should be, for you to reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. If cardiovascular disease is a major concern, however, then ensuring you follow a healthy diet should be your primary objective, followed by ensuring you get adequate physical activity.
For instance, this study determined that running just 5-10 minutes a day at the rate of 6 miles per hour is enough to significantly reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease (and even other causes of death generally). Thus, if you wanted to supplement your walking with other activities, then you may not need to do a lot, depending on your overall health and circumstances.
Also, you shouldn’t take the lack of definitive research as discouragement against walking. This scientific review concluded that people in walking groups show significantly decreased rates of blood pressure, heart rate, body mass index, and cholesterol compared to control groups. Thus, a lot of health benefits of walking exist that are related to cardiovascular health, even if not measuring cardiovascular death rates specifically.
If cardiovascular health is your primary motive for walking, then you should incorporate other, more vigorous activities or measures as well.
The longer or quicker you walk, the more acclimated your body will become to these new challenges, thereby increasing your ability to tackle even more challenges.
This study supported that participants who walked for a year increased their walking speeds and endurance (i.e. oxygen uptake levels) during the year. Another study also showed that individuals who regularly walk have significantly greater endurance than those who don’t.
Also, this study showed that walking either on a treadmill or around a track increased participants’ endurance, though walking around a track produced more notable endurance gains than the treadmill.
So, walking can increase your endurance by itself. However, if you want to maximize your gains with walking, you can try endurance walking or long-distance walking. People who endurance walk can walk 5+ miles at a time.
Physical activity is very influential with your mood and mental health.
This study showed that all forms of exercise reduce people’s self-perceived mental health burdens. Other research relatedly shows regularly walking on a treadmill can even significantly reduce a person’s depression.
Though walking inside on a treadmill boost your mood, walking outside would confer even more benefits. You should read our article, Remarkable Benefits of Nature: 10+ Reasons You Must Go Outside, for a more in-depth discussion on the amazing benefits that being outside confers on your physical and mental health.
Scientists are not certain on the exact mechanisms that link exercise with enhanced mental wellbeing, but the link clearly exists. Theories of the mechanisms include exercise warming areas of the brain that promote relaxation, increasing the release of endorphins, increasing the availability of certain neurotransmitters, or distracting the exerciser from anxiety and depressive thoughts.
Alongside boosting your mood and relaxation, improved sleep quality should not surprise you as one of the benefits of walking.
This study revealed that walked during the day improved participants’ perceived sleep quality that night. The more steps participants walked, the better their reported sleep quality, particularly among females.
Research has, indeed, identified exercise as a way to help people with chronic insomnia and other sleep complaints.
Given that research has linked insomnia with causes like stress and the lack of regular exercise, and that walking can address these causes, then walking’s ability to improve sleep quality makes sense.
Ways to Increase the Benefits of Walking
Much of the research showing the aforementioned benefits of walking correlate increased intensity with increased benefits. Thus, if you want to increase the intensity or range of benefits associated with walking, here are some options:
Increase the challenge of your walk by upping the weight your body has to carry.
I’ve seen people walk with hand weights, which is an option, but more convenient options exist. Holding hand weights may become tedious to grip during long walks or can impede your ability to hold other items, like a water bottle or dog leash.
Thus, you should consider more convenient options like wearing ankle weights or a weighted vest to keep your hands free. They are usually adjustable, so you can increase the amount of weight as you acclimate to lower weights.
Instead of just walking on a flat surface, try inclines. If you use a treadmill, use the incline feature to simulate a slight hill, though the amount of incline is quite limited compared to hills you may find outside.
If you live somewhere with sizeable hills, whether in the grass or pavement, try walking up them. As you should have guessed by now, I definitely advocate walking outside in nature versus walking indoors. Green therapy and sunshine are wonderful perks!
Joining a walking a team or even walking with other people (e.g. friends or family) can definitely increase the benefits of walking.
For one, if you have a walking partner, you can inspire each other to go for a walk when one of you may otherwise skip out for lack of motivation or other reasons. Buddy systems are popular accountability tools for a reason!
Also, if you pair with someone who carries a brisker pace, they will likely inspire you to speed up. You may also walk a longer distance with company, or with someone who wants to walk longer.
Lastly, the health benefits of socializing with people in-person are well-documented, ranging from lower mortality rates, better cardiovascular health, lower incidences of illnesses, and better mental and physical health overall. Once you have an established walking buddy with similar goals, walking should become a routine activity that you look forward to daily.
The benefits of walking are very clear. Whether you use it as your primary or secondary (or tertiary, etc.) form of exercise, you can only stand to benefit from spending more time outside.
Walking tends to be the simplest, low-impact exercise, but you can certainly spruce up your efforts by increasing the distance and/or intensity of your walking. Thus, walking is quite adaptable! The more you walk and make it a routine, the more you will naturally schedule walking into your life.
Thus, we hope you are inspired to start your walking journey today to reap the benefits of walking.
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