If you are looking to get more active this season, consider adding daily walks to your routine. While it may seem less rigorous than sports like running, walking can be a great way to get exercise. You can do it most anywhere and fit it in when you don’t have much time. All it takes is yourself and a decent pair of shoes. Plus, you don’t need a tremendous volume to reap some health benefits.
What’s a walk good for? Many, many things, it seems. Here are 10 motives to get moving.
- Mood mending
Next time you’re feeling down, anxious or at your stress-limit, step out for a brisk walk. Studies suggest that a 10-minute walk may be as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving anxiety and depression.1 Maybe that’s because your body releases endorphins when you exercise, and endorphins naturally reduce pain and stress.2 Plus, if you are able to walk outdoors, always seem to lift one’s spirits.
- Heart health
Research shows that walking at least 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association, which sponsors National Walking Day the first Wednesday in April each year.3 Brisk walks can lower one’s risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, all of which are risk factors to heart disease and stroke.4
- Blood sugar-regulation
A recent study shows that brief, brisk walks throughout the day helped people with Type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar.5 These findings corroborate with other research related to intervals as well as walking and diabetes.
- Reduced risk for non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
Walking at least 30 minutes a day can also reduce your risk for non-insulin dependent diabetes, also known as type 2 diabetes.6 This is in part due to the fact that it helps control blood sugar, but also because it helps shrink the abdominal fat that increases diabetes risk.7 The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that women who got at least 30 minutes of daily, moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, decreased their risk of diabetes by 30 percent.8
- Weight management
Walking alone may not be the key to weight loss, but along with a healthy diet, it may help. As explained in a Mayo Clinic Expert Answers segment, adding 30 minutes of brisk walking to your day can help you burn about 150 calories—the more you walk and the quicker you move, the more calories you will burn. Continuing to exercise after you lose weight is a big part of keeping it off.9
- Bone strength
Walking is weigh-bearing exercise, and weight-bearing exercise is key to building and maintaining strong bones, thereby reducing your risk for osteoporosis.10,11According to The New York Times, the Nurses’ Health Study found that postmenopausal women who walked for at least 40 hours a week were less likely to suffer from hip fractures than those who walked less, and those who walked for at least eight hours a week or performed another activity for an equivalent amount of time were as unlikely to suffer hip fractures as women on hormone replacement therapy.12
- (Almost) instant energizing
If you hit an afternoon slump or need a jumpstart to your day, try lacing up your sneakers and taking a walk. Just 10 minutes can help fight fatigue. In a classic study comparing the energizing effects of a candy bar and a brisk, 10-minute walk, the walk emerged victorious and increased energy for two hours.13
- Mind sharpening
Walking has been linked to slower age-related mental decline and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.14 An abundance of studies have also used walking specifically to research the link between exercise and improved memory and thinking skills.15Such activity helps reduce insulin resistance and inflammation and also stimulate growth factors that affect brain cell health. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier in this piece, exercise such as walking helps with mood, sleep, stress and anxiety, all of which “frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.”16
- Better sleep
Exercise has frequently been linked to a better night’s sleep, and it may not take much to make a difference. A National Sleep Foundation poll found that sleep improved by adding as little as a 10 minute walk to one’s daily routine.17 Poll respondents did not demonstrate a difference in reported sleep quality based on the time of day they exercised; those who exercised at any time slept better than those who didn’t exercise.
- Reduced cancer risk
According to the American Heart Association, walking at least 30 minutes a day can also reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer.18American Cancer Society researchers found that walking at a moderate pace at least seven hours per week was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer after menopause.19 The ACS study found this to be true regardless of whether or not participants were overweight or gained weight during the study. Furthermore, the most active women, those who walked and did more vigorous exercise, had a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer than the least active women.
Before you make changes to your exercise routine, it may be wise to visit your doctor for a wellness exam to help ensure you are healthy and discuss any concerns. If you have a health insurance plan considered minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act, certain preventive care visits and screenings may be covered at no additional cost to you.
1Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.” N.D. http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety
2Stoppler, Melissa Condrad MD. “Endorphins: Natural Pain and Stress Fighters.” Reviewed by a doctor on Dec. 1, 2014. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=55001
3American Heart Association. “Why Walking?” Reviewed March 3, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Why-Walking_UCM_461770_Article.jsp
4American Heart Association. “Walk, Don’t Run, Your Way to a Healthy Heart.” Last reviewed March 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Walk-Dont-Run-Your-Way-to-a-Healthy-Heart_UCM_452926_Article.jsp
5Aubrey, Allison. “Interval Training While Walking Helps Control Blood Sugar.” NPR. Aug. 7, 2014. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/08/07/338367529/interval-training-while-walking-helps-control-blood-sugar
6American Heart Association. “Why Walking?” Reviewed March 3, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Why-Walking_UCM_461770_Article.jsp
7Pagan, Camille Noe. “The Healthiest Walking Workout for Diabetics.” Prevention. Nov. 3, 2011. http://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/healthiest-walking-workout-diabetics
9Zeratsky, Katherine RD, LD. “Can I Lose Weight If My Only Exercise is Walking?” Jan. 15, 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/weight-loss/expert-answers/walking/faq-20058345
10Ortho Northeast. “Maintaining Bone Strength.” N.D. http://www.orthone.com/maintaining-bone-strength.html
11WebMD. “Osteoporosis Exercise.” Last reviewed by David Zelman, MD on Oct. 17, 2014. http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/guide/osteoporosis-exercise
12Brody, Jane E. “Building Up Bones, With a Little Bashing.” The New York Times. Aug. 12, 2013. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/building-up-bones-with-a-little-bashing/?_r=0
13WebMD. “Fatigue Fighters: 6 Quick Ways to Boost Energy.” Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on Nov. 19, 2010.” http://www.webmd.com/diet/fiber-health-benefits-11/fatigue-fighters-six-quick-ways-boost-energy?page=2
14Arthritis Today. “Mental Benefits of Walking.” N.D. http://www.arthritistoday.org/what-you-can-do/staying-active/walking/mental-benefits-of-walking.php
15Godman, Heidi. “Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills.” Harvard Health Letter. April 9, 2014. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110
17National Sleep Foundation. “National Sleep Foundation Poll Finds Exercise Key to Good Sleep [Press Release].” March 4, 2013. http://sleepfoundation.org/media-center/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-poll-finds-exercise-key-good-sleep
18American Heart Association. “Why Walking?” Reviewed March 3, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Why-Walking_UCM_461770_Article.jsp
19Simon, Stacy. “Study Links Walking to Lower Breast Cancer Risk.” American Cancer Society. Oct. 4, 2013. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/study-links-walking-to-lower-breast-cancer-risk