Walking is not only the simplest form of exercise that almost everyone can do, it’s also a free activity that can aid in weight loss and maintenance. But walking’s benefits go even further — here are 10 more reasons to start, or keep, walking:
1. IT SHARPENS YOUR BRAIN
Walking for exercise may become increasingly important as we age and our risk for dementia and other brain disorders increases. It can even help reverse the effects of aging. One study published in the Annals of Neurology found that the 69 participants ages 55–88 who who met the exercise guidelines set by the American Heart Association showed a significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
To improve your cognition even more, try walking backward. One Dutch study found that walking backward helped subjects literally think faster on their feet. Incorporating specific mind-enhancing moves into your workout — such as moving in certain patterns with coordinated arm movements — can also boost the brain benefits of walking.
2. IT STRENGTHENS YOUR BONES
Walking can help strengthen bones and reduce your risk of osteoporosis. One Nurses’ Health study found that women who walked for a minimum of 4 hours a week saw a 40% reduced risk of hip fractures. While other forms of vigorous exercise such as running, jumping and weightlifting offer bone-strengthening benefits, the good news is that walking appears to do the same. That’s great news for those just starting a workout routine, people who must complete low-impact exercise due to joint issues and, of course, anyone who loves walking.
3. IT BOOSTS YOUR MOOD
Having a rough day? Walk it off. Numerous studies have linked walking for exercise with improved mood and reduced stress levels. And it’s even better if you can take a stroll through nature — walking outdoors near greenery has been shown to help reduce feelings of frustration and may even help put your brain into a state of meditation.
4. IT ENHANCES YOUR CIRCULATION
Regular physical activity like walking is great for your heart. It enhances your circulation, helping to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke. And it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits: Walking briskly for just 30 minutes a day is enough to improve heart health.
5. IT REDUCES YOUR RISK OF TRIPPING AND FALLING
Stepping out on a regular basis could help prevent the trips and falls that can occur as we age. Balance loss and weak muscles in the shins can cause a shuffling gait that can put you at a higher risk of tripping or falling. Regular walks can help improve balance by strengthening the lower body. Walking with an exaggerated heel-to-toe action can help strengthen these muscles even more by emphasizing the movement of the foot toward the shins (also known as dorsiflexion).
6. IT BOLSTERS YOUR MEMORY
Having a hard time remembering where your keys are? Walking regularly appears to help specifically bolster the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning. A study of women ages 65 and older, performed by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that age-related memory decline was lower in those who walked more.
7. LESSEN THE PAIN OF CONDITIONS LIKE ARTHRITIS AND FIBROMYALGIA
Walking most days of the week may help lessen pain and reduce symptoms for those with conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. The moderate, low-impact nature of walking is enough to lower pain and improve function for most. (Just be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.)
8. IT IMPROVES YOUR BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVELS
Walking can help improve your blood glucose levels at any time of the day or night but perhaps even more so right after a meal. One study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that a brief 15-minute walk after a meal was as effective at lowering blood sugar levels in 24 hours as a longer 45-minute walk.
9. IT RAISES YOUR IMMUNITY
Stay healthy with daily steps. A walk every day may even help your body fend off illness better. Regular exercise can also contribute to maintaining a healthy weight, which helps reduce your risk of diseases such as cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
10. IT IMPROVES YOUR SLEEP
Walking may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly, especially if you suffer from insomnia. A morning walk outdoors may be particularly beneficial since exposure to daylight can help you stay in tune with your natural circadian rhythms.