We’re bombarded by fitness messaging that tells us that to be healthy, we must go to extremes (“no pain, no gain). But really, it doesn’t have to be that hard.
Simply going for a walk (especially if you do it regularly and outdoors) is an underestimated but low-stress, low-impact, accessible way to reap lots of health benefits. It can be a rejuvenating time, spent in solitude or in the company of friends, in sunshine and fresh air. Here are four benefits of going for walks—no gym membership required.
It Boosts Your Mood
Just the act of walking—the way you’ve probably been doing without thought ever since you were a toddler—can improve your mood, even in an environment where you may be dreading tasks you have at hand, according to a 2016 study.
Plus, it gives you a reason to take breaks from your chair throughout the day. If you’re able to walk outside in a natural setting and not on a treadmill or at your workplace, the benefits are even more direct. Studies show that walking outdoors can help relieve stress: In one study, participants who took a 90-minute walk outdoors reported less “rumination” (repeatedly thinking negative thoughts about yourself) and showed less activity in regions of the brain linked to mental illness.
It Bolsters Heart Health
Activities that have you gasping for breath aren’t the only ones that count as aerobic exercise; moderate walking can help you reap some of the same heart-healthy benefits.
Just 30 minutes of walking a day has been shown to improve blood pressure and reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. This can be accomplished easily by simple decisions like parking farther away from buildings, taking stairs, and pacing while talking on the phone.
It Can Ease Sugar Cravings
The next time you have a hankering for a sweet snack, go for a brief walk. One study showed that taking a 15-minute walk helped people cut their chocolate consumption in half at their workplace.
It Improves Brain Health
Going for regular walks has been associated with increased brain plasticity, the ability to create and grow new neural connections in your brain.
It can even help stave off cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s later in life. One study looked at the activity level of seniors; those who walked 72 blocks or more per week had more gray matter in their brains, reducing the risk of cognitive impairment by half.
Weight Loss Walking
No, we’re not going to tell you to start running. Maybe you got a fitness tracker for the holidays and are feeling inspired to log a few extra miles a week. Or maybe you enjoy walking as a form of regular exercise, but are curious as to how you can slim down doing it. Whatever your reason, it’s easier than you think to torch serious calories by simply moving your right foot in front of your left.
So here’s how you take your walking routine to the next level: “Set mini goals for yourself during your walk. For example, if you’re taking your workout outdoors, try pacing as quickly as you can to the next stop sign. If you’re on a treadmill, do the same by setting a time goal that you can look forward to achieving. Not only will this feel great to achieve, but it will make your workout go by much quicker.”
If you’re walking with a friend or loved one, test each other to fun mini challenges along the way like walking as quickly as you can to your favorite workout tune while the other does walking lunges and then switching roles. As you set and break your mini goals, you’ll likely begin to burn more calories with every workout and build your endurance, too.
A Little Walking Can Lengthen Your Life- Less than the recommended 150 minutes a week still seemed to help, study found
That evening stroll you take after dinner most nights may be doing you more good than you realize. New research suggests even a bit of regular walking can reduce your risk of death.
Walking has been described as the ‘perfect exercise’ because it is simple, free, convenient, doesn’t require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age.
Previous research has linked regular walking with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and breast and colon cancers. However, many adults don’t get the recommended levels of walking or other types of exercise. The recommended amounts are at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week.
In this study, researchers examined data from nearly 140,000 adults. Of those, 95 percent said they did some walking. Nearly half said walking was their only form of moderate-vigorous physical activity.
The researchers adjusted the data to account for other factors that could affect the risk of death, such as smoking, obesity and chronic health problems.
After those adjustments, the researchers concluded that people whose only exercise was walking less than two hours per week had a lower risk of death from any cause than those who did no physical activity.
Those who did one to two times the minimum amount of recommended weekly exercise (2.5 to 5 hours) by only walking had a 20 percent lower risk of death. The risk of death was similar among those who exceeded activity recommendations through only walking.
Walking was most strongly associated with reduced risk of death from respiratory diseases — about a 35 percent lower risk for those who walked more than six hours a week than those who were least active.
Walking was also associated with about 20 percent lower risk of death from heart disease. People who only walked also had a 9 percent lower risk of death from cancer, the study authors said.
However, none of the results proved a direct cause-and-effect relationship. The study was only designed to show associations.
The findings were published online Oct. 19 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:
How to Start a Walking Plan
Even if you are completely new to exercise, getting fit doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. In fact, it can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
Starting a walking program can get you on the path to better health. All you need to get going are supportive athletic shoes, comfortable clothes, a safe place to walk, and the OK from your doctor if you’re out of shape or have any chronic conditions.
If you’re new to exercise, it’s important to start slowly. Try walking for 5 to 10 minutes a day for the first few weeks. Gradually add more time and distance. Eventually, pick up the pace, your goal is to walk briskly for at least 30 minutes on most days.
One way to help you stay motivated to reach your fitness goals is to keep track of how many steps you take each day. You can do this with an inexpensive pedometer or a fitness program on your smartphone or smartwatch. Aim to reach 10,000 steps.
That might sound like a lot, but you can add to your daily total in many small ways. Besides your daily walk, work in extra steps by moving whenever you can. Walk to your co-worker’s desk to talk about that big project instead of sending an email. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.
Warm-ups and cool-downs are important parts of every fitness plan, even walking. Before and after your workout, walk slowly for 5 minutes. At the end of every walk, gently stretch your muscles. Don’t skip these steps as they can help prevent injury.
For fun and fitness, round up your office staff or some neighbours for a walking club. Walking in a group will also keep you motivated to continue.