How Walking Can Improve Your Health: When we think of exercise, the image that comes to mind is often those marathon-addicted runners that pass us by every morning or the super-fit, beefy trainers we see at the gym lifting three times their weight on a barbell. The truth is that, for most of us, “exercise” has become synonymous with “pain,” and if that wasn’t deterring enough, at a certain point in our lives, our bodies just can’t handle that kind of stress anymore. But here’s an open secret about exercising that often gets ignored: you don’t have to do high-impact activities in order to stay fit. Staying active and improving your health can be as simple as enjoying a good walk everyday. Let’s explore the power of walking!
The Science Behind the Walk
Though fitness guidelines have changed over the years, one thing has stuck: Aerobic exercise. Aerobic training involves increasing your heart rate to 70%-85% of its maximum and keeping that rate sustained for anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes. Running is a prime example of aerobic exercise training,
Because aerobic exercise involves a lot of sweat and hard work, people naturally gravitate towards it. It makes them feel as though they are really “doing” something to improve their health. But it’s not the only way to exercise and keep your body healthy. Moderate exercise, like walking, can provide the same general health benefits offered by aerobic exercise without the risk of injury or stress put on your body – if you do it correctly.
To achieve the same aerobic exercise results from moderate exercise, you need to increase the frequency and length of your physical activity. For example, the current American Heart Association standards recommend intense aerobic exercise (like running) for at least 20 minutes three days a week, or a moderately intense exercise (like walking) for at least 30 minutes five days a week. So, walk everyday and you can smile at those sweaty, huffing runners who pass you by, knowing you’re getting just as much good out of your work without any of the pain.
The Health Benefits of Walking
It’s surprising how walking can improve health in so many ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, the advantages go beyond simply getting your body in shape or staying fit. When you incorporate a daily walk into your routine, you’ll benefit from:
- Weight Management
- Cardiovascular Health
- Bone & Muscular Strengthening
- Balance & Coordination Improvement
- Emotional Well-Being
Let’s break these down for a second.
Walking for Weight Management
Perhaps the most obvious evidence of how walking can improve health, walking, like any physical activity, can help you reach and maintain healthy weight goals. As mentioned before, incorporating walking into your routine for at least 30 minutes five times a week can help you achieve the same results that running three times a week can achieve. This includes your body’s calorie consumption. Each time you walk – and the more briskly you walk – you’re burning calories.
To top this off, walking can also improve your digestion. A regular walking routine can significantly improve your gastric mobility. Walking utilizes core and abdominal muscles, which subsequently encourages movement in the gastro-intestinal system. Want to encourage your metabolism and jump-start your digestive system? Take a walk after a nutritional breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and enjoy how simple maintaining a healthy weight becomes!
Walking can also change your body’s chemistry, making it easier to ward-off weight gain in the future. According to Harvard researchers, the effects of 32 obesity-promoting genes were cut in half for people who walked briskly for about an hour each day.
To add a figurative cherry on top, recent research has confirmed that walking can actively reduce sugary cravings, effectively limiting your desire to eat empty-calorie foods in the first place.
Steps to a Healthy Heart
Walking regularly can reduce cardiac risk factors that may be at the forefront of your health-management. Things like, improving your cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, preventing the onset of diabetes and obesity, reducing vascular stiffness and inflammation, and easing stress levels.
All of these benefits mean your regular walk can significantly limit your risk of chronic disease. According to The American Diabetes Association, walking can lower your blood sugar levels, which in turn reduces your risk for diabetes. Other research has found that lowering your blood pressure through regular walking can slash your risk of stroke by 20%-40%, and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 30%.
Balancing Bone & Body
When you walk, you are effectively demanding that your body lift its own weight, over and over again. Just like lifting weights in a gym, over time, your body will begin to adapt to the demands you’re putting on it – strengthening and toning in order to more easily carry your weight for longer periods of time.
Along side this, walking regularly provides coordination practice. When you repeat the same motion over and over again, your body will learn to adapt to it, improving and eventually mastering coordination between your feet, hands, and eyes. And thanks to the use of our abdominal muscles – which also happen to control our center of balance – while walking, you’ll find that the more you walk, the better your balance improves. (And, just as a side note: the better your balance, the smaller your risk of falling, tripping, or slipping.)
Walking to be Well
Though the benefits of walking have been well documented and studied, perhaps one of the most beautiful side effects of a regular walk is how much it can improve your mood and emotional well-being. For one, walking is an activity that can be done nearly anywhere and provides a great excuse to escape the cramped, dark spaces of the indoors and get outside. Being in nature – or simply breathing fresh air outdoors – can offer a wonderful break from silent stressors, like social media and clutter.
Unlike running or other more vigorous workout activities, walking can also become a social activity. Catch up with an old friend, or make new ones by starting a walking group, and discover how much your mood improves when you get to look forward to socializing during your walk everyday.
How to Do It Right
As we’ve more than established at this point, there are a ton of reasons to take up walking to improve your health. But the trick is to do it right; carrying the wrong posture or walking too slowly won’t help you achieve the benefits you’re looking for, and can even add to your ailments. Make your walking really count with purposeful movement that looks like this:
- Head up, looking forward (not at the ground).
- Keep your neck, shoulders, and back relaxed.
- Arms are swinging freely with a slight bend – you can pump them a small amount.
- Keep your stomach muscles tightened slightly and keep your back straight.
- Walk smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.
The older we get, the harder it becomes to stay active – our bodies are tired and they ache without volition of intense cardio or strength-training, And we’re busy – whether it’s kids, grandkids, work, or hobbies, we’ve got things to do. But incorporating one 30 minute walk, or several 5-10 minute walks throughout your day can keep you healthy, happy, and strong for years to come!