You might already be walking regularly, even daily, but are you actually moving enough? Movement expert Katy Bowman points out that even if you exercise for an hour per day, that’s still only just over 4% of your day spent moving — not great if the rest of your time is spent sedentary (shifting from an office chair to the couch post-workout). Bowman’s prescription? Move more.
And that’s where walking comes in. Adding walking to your day — in traditional and unexpected ways — can help improve your cardio and running, too. Below, you’ll find seven reasons why you need to walk more.
LOWER YOUR BODY FAT
The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology Journal recently published a study that surveyed commuters who walked or biked versus drove and found — no surprise here — that adults who commute via human power (walking or riding) have a lower body-fat percentage and body mass index. If you’ve struggled with lowering that number on the scale, adding some walking may actually help shift the numbers in the right direction. A little extra walking means you’ll burn calories without much need for repair — and you don’t need a recovery shake after a mile-long walk.
LOWER YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE
Even active people can be at risk for heart disease, but regular walking can help ease that. Regular walks will keep you much healthier than sitting on the couch whether you’re recovering from an injury, trying to lose weight to get to a point where you can run or just taking an extended recovery period after a hard season of running. Researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University recently studied a large group of older Americans. Their research showed that as these participants aged, those with a higher rate of regular moderate physical activity like walking (especially brisk-paced walking) had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
LOWER YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
It’s not exactly news that walking can help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, but it is surprising that a brisk walk can do just as much good as running, according to findings reported in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. In the study, researchers analyzed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. The results showed that over six years, there were similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes in both groups. So even if you have to skip a run for a few days, try to add extra blocks of walking to keep the same health benefits, if not the caloric burn.
NEGATE AIR POLLUTION
According to a recent study led by researchers from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research and the University of Cambridge, the health benefits of walking easily outweigh the negative effects on health of air pollution. So the rationalization that you shouldn’t walk in a busy city for fear of breathing in polluted air is pretty weak. Plus, by walking more and driving less, you’re helping the environment and reducing your carbon footprint.
Similarly, if you walk errands, you’re saving money on gas for your car, while also spending time in nature — and possibly time with friends if you find neighbors to walk with, says Bowman. This could also save money because as you try to convert errands from driving to walking, you quickly begin to pare down what you actually need. For example: Instead of impulse buying at the grocery store, you’re limited by how much you can carry. (Pro tip: Carrying groceries adds a bonus strength-training element to your walk.)
MAKE LIFE HARD AGAIN
Even if you’re walking to the grocery store and not into the forest to forage for dinner (though that’s certainly an awesome option!), Bowman writes in her most recent book “Movement Matters,” that we should strive to make life more challenging. We have it too easy: fast food, grocery delivery, cars and even strollers — all make life a lot less physically taxing, and a lot less healthy. She recommends that people try to build as much movement as possible into their day: Walking to buy groceries to make dinner, carrying kids instead of putting them in the stroller for the whole walk, and generally adding more physical challenge to your day. You’ll be stronger, healthier and happier for it.
EASE DEPRESSION AND BOOST MOOD
Getting outside in nature boosts our mood. A walk in nature might be enough to help cure or ease some of the effects of major depression. Marc Berman, a post-doctoral fellow at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, with partners from the University of Michigan and Stanford University, led a massive study now published in the Journal of Affective Disorders that showed walking in nature, compared with walking in a busy urban environment, actually improved memory performance for study participants suffering from clinical depression. While it’s not a miracle cure, if you can ease the stress of a bad day by taking a quick walk in the park, that’s pretty great news — and an easy, healthy fix.
BOOST ENERGY LEVELS
Even if you’re tired and don’t feel like exercising, you’ll likely feel more energized after going for a walk. In fact, some research shows going for a walk is the best way to beat an afternoon slump — even more so than a cup of coffee.
Even if you’ve never exercised before, it’s not too late to reap the benefits and increase longevity. While building your way up to longer walks, you can start with just 10 minutes a day, which has been shown to yield health benefits in and of itself.
Regular exercise increases your metabolism, and walking is no exception. The key here is upping the pace. To get started, try including 1–2 minutes of power walking every 5 minutes during your daily walk.
INVOLVE FAMILY, FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES
While walking can be a great way to spend quality “me time,” it’s also a great way to catch up with friends and family or support your partner in their weight loss journey. You can even find fun and creative ways to get the kids involved.
While taking time to exercise during your work day may seem counterproductive, the opposite is actually true. Studies have shown a link between walking and improvements in focus, creativity and improving your mood at work. The next time you’re having trouble concentrating or solving a problem, try going for a quick, 10-minute walk. Not only will you increase your step count, but you’ll also be better able to get your work done.
DISCONNECT AND DE-STRESS
While you can certainly listen to music or a podcast during your walks, using your exercise time to disconnect and destress from the constant commotion of daily life can often be a good idea, too. For some, exercising can become a form of meditation, allowing you to step away from phone calls, emails, texts and other electronics so you let your mind relax and enjoy the peacefulness. Doing so helps minimize stress, which can lead to better health and less weight gain.
REACH FOR NEW GOALS
Having smart goals is a great way to make healthy habits stick. Once you get into walking, there are bound to be walking events or tough hikes that challenge you and require you to have goals and plans for achieving them in place. From 5Ks to ultramarathons, walking is a great way to push yourself and keep exercise enjoyable.
BE A POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON OTHERS
Chances are, you’re not the only person who could benefit from daily exercise. Whether it’s a friend, spouse, grandchild, or coworker, when others see you participating in daily exercise, you’re setting a good example for others to follow. Invite others along with you on a few of your walks (see #6 above) and help them get started with their own exercise routine. Who knows, it might even provide you with a workout partner or two when your motivation starts to wane.
Besides looking and feeling good from a daily walking routine, researchers have found that as little as five minutes of exercise a day can boost self-esteem. What’s more, lower-intensity exercise like walking has been shown to have a larger effect on self-esteem and mood compared to high-intensity exercise like running intervals.
Walking has a much lower injury rate compared to higher-impact exercise such as running. What’s more, walking can actually ease pain such as lower-back pain and if you’re feeling sick, an easy-paced walk is likely one type of exercise you can continue to perform.
PROMOTE A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE
Exercising daily sounds good to most people, but getting into the habit and building a lifestyle centered around physical fitness can be difficult. But like all things, you have to start somewhere, and it begins with getting outside and putting one foot in front of the other. Once your routine becomes a habit and you start to look forward to your daily walk, you might be surprised at the influence it can have on the other aspects of your life. Perhaps it’ll make you more interested in eating a healthier diet, or encourage you to get more sleep at night. Maybe you’ll be motivated to sign up for a long-distance event, or join a local walking group. Whatever the case may be, walking helps you develop healthier habits and lead to positive lifestyle changes.
With additional reporting by Marc Lindsay