Whether you want to make healthy changes by working out, need to rehab a knee injury or simply prefer fresh-air exercise, walking is a great solution. Even for the avid marathoner, switching to a walk/run race program can help. “If you slow down, it lowers the odds that you will get injured and enables you to do more marathons in a row,” says Clyde Shank, a Plano, Texas, runner who has completed almost 300 marathons.
“Walking is one of the easiest exercises you can do; all you need is a pair of shoes,” says Meghan Kennihan, USATF run coach and NASM certified personal trainer. Plus, can do it almost anywhere.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF WALKING
To help influence you on the appeal of this exercise, the following additional health benefits of walking are backed by research:
FEW-TO-NO ADVERSE SIDE EFFECTS
In an extensive review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine of walking group program studies, researchers found “no notable adverse side effects” on those who participated in walking groups. Instead, researchers found significant perks, including reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, resting heart rates, body mass index and depression levels.
OFFERS RELIEF FROM DISEASE
Quality of life, more often than not, falters when dealing with a debilitating disease. But walking is one way to cope with a disease’s negative side effects. In a review published in Europe PMC, the author found walking can help with self-care and counter the lethargy and lack of social activity faced by those diagnosed with cancer.
HELPS WITH GLYCEMIC CONTROL
Using three databases and 18 studies, researchers published a review of walking effects on glycemic control among Type 2 diabetes patients in PLOS One. They found supervised walking vastly decreased A1c levels (diabetics have elevated levels) and helped ensure glycemic control. If you decide to walk as a form of cardiovascular exercise, the researchers recommend using supervision (i.e., using a coach for a walking program) or using motivational strategies when walking without supervision (i.e., following an online program).
STAVES OFF TYPE 2 DIABETES
Researchers, in a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, studied six sedentary, obese men ages 19–31 who participated in a walking program five days a week for 16 weeks. They found the men lowered their fasting blood sugar, reduced their insulin levels by 43% and decreased their insulin/glucose concentrations by 36%. The men also reduced body fat stores and internal insulin requirements.
HELPS THE BRAIN
In the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, researchers studied 150 men and women ages 68–76 who participated in a community-based walking program just once a week for 90 minutes for three months. Results showed that walkers experienced higher word fluency and motor function than a control group.
2 WAYS TO GET STARTED
1. JOIN AN INTERNET SUPPORT GROUP
In a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, researchers found walkers participating in an online community completed a walking program with 13% higher rates than those with no online community arm. Their conclusion? “Online communities may be a promising approach to reducing attrition.”
Kennihan agrees. “The only barrier for most people [to walk] is motivation. That is where online walking programs can be helpful.” She says they hold you accountable, provide support and offer encouragement from those with similar goals.
2. WALK A DOG
You do not need to get your own dog; you simply need one to walk. In a study from Clinical Nursing Research, 26 participants walked certified therapy dogs with a handler five days a week for 26 or 50 weeks. The 26-week group adhered to the program at a rate of 52%; the 50-week group adhered at a rate of 72%. The most common reason walkers stuck to the program was because the dogs need “us to walk them.”