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Most people know they can benefit from exercising more, but if that conjures up unwelcome images of panting, sore muscles, and uncomfortable spandex, you might want to consider other options. Not all exercise routines need to be full of intense workouts. Finding little ways to work more movement into your day boosts both your physical and mental health, and walking can be a great option.
Walking is considered a cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, meaning it increases your heart rate and breathing, and it provides many different health benefits to people of all fitness levels.
Top benefits of walking
There’s a reason it’s become so popular to wear a fitness tracker that helps you keep track of your daily steps: the benefits of walking are undeniable. You may not think of walking as “real” exercise, but it most certainly is. Here are 10 great benefits of walking.
1. Lowers blood pressure
Research suggests regular walking may help lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels (Lee, 2021). Uncontrolled high blood pressure affects your risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, making walking a great tool to protect your heart, brain, and kidney health.
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2. Lowers coronary heart disease risk
Research suggests walking 30 minutes each day lowers the risk for coronary heart disease by 19% (Zheng, 2009). The reduced risk for heart disease may be related to changes in cholesterol levels.
High levels of “bad” cholesterol increase the chances of plaques forming in your arteries. Research suggests that walking 30 minutes at least five days per week helped decrease “bad” cholesterol levels while increasing “good” cholesterol levels (Lian, 2014).
3. Improves blood sugar control
Regularly walking may help to improve blood sugar control and support type 2 diabetes management.
A small 2017 study asked one group of participants to walk for 10 minutes a day after each main meal. The study found that walking helped improve the blood sugar levels after the meal to promote more stable blood sugar (Reynolds, 2016).
Walking is an excellent way to increase physical activity throughout the day. Walking for 30 minutes each day may decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 50% (Hamasaki, 2016).
4. Reduces joint and back pain
Knee pain and osteoarthritis are common causes of trouble walking and difficulty moving. Oddly enough, research suggests walking regularly helps protect against these physical limitations (White, 2014).
Walking may also help relieve lower back pain. A 2018 meta-analysis found that walking is an effective tool to help manage chronic pain. Regularly walking helped reduce pain and lowered the risk for long-term physical disability (Sitthipornvorakul, 2018).
5. Boosts energy levels
Going for a walk may provide a better energy boost than a cup of coffee. A 2017 research study tested the effects of 10 minutes of exercise and 50 mg of caffeine on participant’s work ethic. The study found that participants had more motivation to complete work tasks following 10 minutes of walking stairs than after taking the caffeine (Randolph, 2017).
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6. Helps with maintaining a healthy body weight
Regularly walking makes it easier to maintain a healthy body weight and lower body fat. How many calories you burn while walking depends on how long you walk, walking speed, flat or hilly terrain, and your body.
Research suggests that two short walks (about 25 minutes) may be more effective than one long walk in supporting weight loss (Madjd, 2019).
7. Boosts mood and lowers anxiety
Regular exercise helps boost your mood and lower symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression (Sharma, 2006). Getting up and going for a walk helps to improve blood flow and releases chemicals like endorphins and mood-boosting neurotransmitters. A 2016 study found that walking increased overall mood and helped people feel more energized (Ensari, 2016).
8. Improves muscle health and balance
Walking helps keep your muscles healthy and may improve your overall balance. Walking can effectively maintain healthy muscles and strength, both of which naturally decline as we get older without preventive measures.
Walking is a relatively safe and easy form of exercise for many people, no matter their fitness level. So, walking helps people who aren’t used to exercise build up their muscle strength and balance (Yoshiko, 2018).
Keeping your muscles healthy and working on your balance helps reduce the risks of falling that could cause bone fractures and injuries in older adults (Yoshiko, 2018).
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9. Increases creativity
Feeling stuck on a problem? Walking may help you brainstorm new ideas to come up with creative solutions. One small study found that walking helps boost creativity and makes it easier for ideas to flow (Oppezzo, 2014).
Consider scheduling some walking meetings to discuss new ideas or take a short walk before starting a creative project to get your creative energy flowing.
10. Helps you sleep better
Problems sleeping and a lack of sleep are common problems. Poor sleep quality impacts all areas of your health, so taking steps to improve your sleep quality is essential.
A 2016 study tested the impact of a walking program on the sleep quality of people with lung cancer. The study found that participating in a 12-week walking exercise program improved time asleep, quality of sleep, and the participant’s overall circadian rhythm (Chen, 2016).
Another research study found that people who took more steps throughout the day reported better quality sleep than on less active days (Bisson, 2019).
If you want to walk more often, it’s essential to see how walking will fit into your daily routine. Do you only have time for one long daily walk, or would a couple of short 10-minute walks fit better into your schedule?
The best way to stay consistent with physical activity is to make sure it will work in your daily life. Here are a few other tips to get started:
- Wear supportive walking shoes with cushioning and arch support.
- Walk in areas marked for pedestrians.
- Wear sunscreen to protect your skin against sun damage, even on cloudy days.
- Wear comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing.
- Drink plenty of water and replace electrolytes to prevent dehydration.
- If walking in the early morning or evening, wear reflective clothing so cars can easily see you.
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It can be challenging to start a new habit. Joining a walking group or scheduling walks with friends can help keep you accountable and more likely to continue being active.
Try to aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week, which is about 2.5 hours of exercise each week. These could be broken down into 30-minute walks or many shorter walks. Walking works for any fitness level and the benefits of walking are good for everyone. If you currently don’t exercise at all, try for just a couple of 5-minute walks a few days each week. Over time, you can slowly increase the time you spend walking and the number of weekly walks you take.
- Bisson, A. N. S., Robinson, S. A., & Lachman, M. E. (2019). Walk to a better night of sleep: testing the relationship between physical activity and sleep. Sleep Health, 5(5), 487–494. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2019.06.003. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6801055/
- Chen, H. M., Tsai, C. M., Wu, Y. C., Lin, K. C., & Lin, C. C. (2016). Effect of walking on circadian rhythms and sleep quality of patients with lung cancer: a randomised controlled trial. British Journal Of Cancer, 115(11), 1304–1312. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2016.356. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5129819/
- Ensari, I., Sandroff, B. M., & Motl, R. W. (2016). Effects of single bouts of walking exercise and yoga on acute mood symptoms in people with multiple sclerosis. International Journal of MS Care, 18(1), 1–8. doi: 10.7224/1537-2073.2014-104. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4766946/
- Hamasaki, H. (2016). Daily physical activity and type 2 diabetes: a review. World Journal Of Diabetes, 7(12), 243–251. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v7.i12.243. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4914832/
- Lee, I. M. & Buchner, D. M. (2008). The importance of walking to public health. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(7 Suppl), S512–S518. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31817c65d0. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18562968/
- Lian, X. Q., Zhao, D., Zhu, M., Wang, Z. M., Gao, W., Zhao, H., et al. (2014). The influence of regular walking at different times of day on blood lipids and inflammatory markers in sedentary patients with coronary artery disease. Preventive Medicine, 58, 64–69. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2013.10.020. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24201089/
- Ma, D., Wu, L., & He, Z. (2013). Effects of walking on the preservation of bone mineral density in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Menopause, 20(11), 1216–1226. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000100. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24149921/
- Madjd, A., Taylor, M. A., Delavari, A., Malekzadeh, R., Macdonald, I. A., & Farshchi, H. R. (2019). Effect of a long bout versus short bouts of walking on weight loss during a weight-loss diet: a randomized trial. Obesity, 27(4), 551–558. doi: 10.1002/oby.22416. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30737894/
- Oppezzo, M. & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal Of Experimental Psychology Learning, Memory, And Cognition, 40(4), 1142–1152. doi: 10.1037/a0036577. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24749966/
- Randolph, D. D. & O’Connor, P. J. (2017). Stair walking is more energizing than low dose caffeine in sleep deprived young women. Physiology & Behavior, 174, 128–135. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.03.013. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28302573/
- Reynolds, A. N., Mann, J. I., Williams, S., & Venn, B. J. (2016). Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomised crossover study. Diabetologia, 59(12), 2572–2578. doi: 10.1007/s00125-016-4085-2. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27747394/
- Sitthipornvorakul, E., Klinsophon, T., Sihawong, R., & Janwantanakul, P. (2018). The effects of walking intervention in patients with chronic low back pain: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Musculoskeletal Science & Practice, 34, 38–46. doi: 10.1016/j.msksp.2017.12.003. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29257996/
- White, D. K., Tudor-Locke, C., Zhang, Y., Fielding, R., LaValley, M., Felson, D. T., et al. (2014). Daily walking and the risk of incident functional limitation in knee osteoarthritis: an observational study. Arthritis Care & Research, 66(9), 1328–1336. doi: 10.1002/acr.22362. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4146701/
- Yoshiko, A., Tomita, A., Ando, R., Ogawa, M., Kondo, S., Saito, A., et al. (2018). Effects of 10-week walking and walking with home-based resistance training on muscle quality, muscle size, and physical functional tests in healthy older individuals. European Review Of Aging And Physical Activity: Official Journal Of The European Group For Research Into Elderly and Physical Activity, 15, 13. doi: 10.1186/s11556-018-0201-2. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6240935/
- Zheng, H., Orsini, N., Amin, J., Wolk, A., Nguyen, V. T., & Ehrlich, F. (2009). Quantifying the dose-response of walking in reducing coronary heart disease risk: meta-analysis. European Journal Of Epidemiology, 24(4), 181–192. doi: 10.1007/s10654-009-9328-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19306107/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.