13 Health Benefits of Walking Every Day

13 Health Benefits of Walking Every Day

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When you think about exercise, your mind may go directly to doing strenuous physical work for a prolonged amount of time. And if so, I can see why you may not be enthusiastic about creating an exercise routine to perform on a regular basis.

If you are among this population, you’re not alone. In fact, 77.1% of adults in the U.S. (ages 18-64) do not meet the recommended guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. However, if you’re not already there, it’s probably not as hard as you may think to move yourself over to the other 22.9%, because walking rarely gets the respect that it deserves when it comes to exercise options.

According to the Better Health Channel, simply walking for 30 minutes a day can help you increase your cardiovascular health, strengthen your bones, lose weight, and improve your muscle strength and endurance. Walking can also reduce your risk of developing chronic health conditions…plus, it’s free!

And speaking of money, in addition to saving you money on gym memberships or exercise equipment, walking also helps save money when it comes to medical bills. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who walk for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week saved a lot of money on healthcare costs when compared with those living a sedentary lifestyle.

In this article, we are going to look at 13 health benefits of walking every day. Hopefully after reading this, you will feel inspired to start a walking routine so you can reap these benefits as much as others already do.

13 Health Benefits of Walking Every Day

1. Improves Your Heart Health

This is great news for people who dread the thought of running! Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the Life Science Division looked at both the National Runners’ and National Walkers’ Health Studies and found that the amount of energy used for moderately-intense walking vs vigorously-intense running resulted in similar reductions in one’s risk for developing heart disease over a six year period.

Yes, running is more efficient than walking. Walking requires less intensity than running, so you need to walk for a longer amount of time than you need to run in order to get the same cardiovascular benefits. However, think about the extra shower, time for warming up and cooling down, changes of clothes, etc. that you need to factor time in for if you go for a run. 

It’s easy to squeeze in some extra minutes of walking here and there without having to take another shower, etc. While you probably wouldn’t run in your high heels (or suit and tie) from your desk to the office kitchen to grab your lunch, you can easily add some walking time into your day by:

  • Taking your dog for a quick walk
  • Walking around your office building at lunch
  • Parking far away from stores when you’re running errands and choosing the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walking around the mall with a friend
  • Getting up to ask a colleague a question in person rather than emailing them from a few rooms over

But in order to acquire and maintain the motivation to add extra walking into your routine, you need to understand how walking can benefit your heart health. Here are some concrete answers to that:

  • It lowers blood pressure, which is a risk factor for developing heart disease
  • Walking keeps your weight down, which reduces stress on your heart
  • Strengthens the muscle (your heart) so it can more easily pump blood to the rest of your body
  • Helps reduce stress hormones that are a burden to your heart

So, grab your favorite music and your sense of purpose, and you will certainly get some fantastic exercise while you’re walking.

2. Boosts Your Mood

What do you turn to after (or during) a hard day?

A candy bar? A glass of wine? A bowl of ice cream?

Calories make me happy, too. But going for a walk is a calorie-reducing, stress-relieving method that not only offers health benefits in addition to improving your mood, it also results in less guilt than the other stress-reducing methods that we often turn to.

Research shows that going for walks outside on a regular basis can change the workings of your nervous system in a way that decreases your feelings of anger and animosity. This can be especially helpful throughout the winter, when days are short and seasonal depression is on the rise.

Another study looked at the relationship between taking walks in nature and the risk of developing a mental illness. In this study, participants who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment showed reduced activity in the area of the brain that’s linked to one’s risk for developing cognitive diseases–as well as reduced levels of rumination (repetitive negative thoughts) compared with participants who walked through urban environments.

Finally, when you invite a friend to walk with you, this exercise becomes social and allows you to interact and connect with people you care about, which can also be a major mood-booster.

But what if it’s not a beautiful day–can you resort to watching television instead? Sorry, but no. A 2016 study shows us that even if you take away any added happiness factors like nature, sunshine, socializing, and even listening to music—walking is still a powerful mood lifter, which may be hardwired into our evolution. According to the researchers, moving has always been linked to positive undertakings, like going out searching for food or land. Today, walking still embodies positive affect because it encourages a sense of accomplishment.

The researchers completed three experiments for this study examining how walking generates positive emotions. The first experiment compared two groups of college students, one who took a simple walk through buildings on campus and one who watched a video. This experiment found that the campus strollers experienced higher feelings of self-assurance, vitality, and alertness, while the attentiveness and mood of the control subjects dropped.

Moving onto the second experiment, students were tasked with going on a walking tour and then writing an essay (with the intent of putting some pressure on the students). However, even with the pressure of having to write an essay, the students reportedly maintained a positive mood during and after their walk.

The final experiment simply required students to walk on a treadmill, so the factor of nature was taken out of the equation. These students still experienced a spike in their mood when compared with other students who simply stood or sat.

So, whether it’s storming outside and you’re walking on a treadmill in the basement or you’re walking down a beach in the Carribean, the act of walking can improve your mood no matter what. And, physicians agree, as doctors often recommend incorporating a walking routine into patients’ everyday schedules as a natural therapy for relieving depression. Depression is highly impacted by one’s brain chemistry. By going for walks, you can get your brain to release endorphins, allowing you to naturally achieve what many drugs aim to do artificially.

3. Walking Will Give You Good Ideas

If you’re like me, you have instances (or entire days) in which you feel like you’ve hit a mental roadblock. Going for a walk can help alleviate this problem, because doing so allows your mind to wander. Studies have shown that engaging in intensive, vigilant deliberation (i.e. sitting at your desk with your head in your hands thinking as hard as you possibly can) can actually be debilitating when you’re trying to make a complex decision or come up with innovative ideas.

When you go for a walk, you’re allowing yourself to be in an environment that is conducive to letting your mind wander a bit. Often, this is when people reach those “lightbulb” moments when an idea or decisions becomes ever so clear.

One Stanford study reinforced this idea, as it found that walking increases creativity by about 60%. The researchers named this type of thought process “divergent thinking,” which is effective in generating creative ideas because your mind can freely explore a variety of potential solutions if you simply let it wander a bit. According to this study, walking welcomes the flow of innovative thinking, which makes it a healthy solution if you need to boost your creativity and get some physical exercise in.

Finally, walking can help boost your brain power because every time you take a step on the ground, it sends pressure waves back up through your arteries that increase the blood flow to your brain. This healthy amount of blood is critical for brain function, as circulating blood keeps your brain oxygenated and provides it with the nutrients it needs to help you think properly.

4. It Can Help Keep Varicose Veins at Bay

Speaking of healthy circulation of blood, walking can reduce or prevent varicose veins. Varicose veins are among the many physical signs of aging–and, while they don’t affect every aging adult (about 50%), they’re still an unsightly reminder of time passing by. If you’re squeamish, skip the next paragraph because I’m about to explain how varicose veins develop.

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Walking every day strengthens the circulatory system and muscles in the bottom half of your body, which encourages healthy blood flow.

The venous system in the lower half of your body works to return blood to your heart and lungs as it’s circulating. Your leg muscles help your deep veins move your blood back upward, however, you also have a system of one-way valves that have to work against gravity to prevent your blood from channeling back down your legs. When these valves fail, it puts additional pressure on your veins’ walls, which makes it hard for your muscles to push your blood back up. So, instead of moving between valves, your blood starts to pool in your veins, which further increases pressure and causes your veins to swell, twist, and protrude. Now you have varicose veins.

An effective way to prevent this is to walk every day, as doing so strengthens the circulatory system and muscles in the bottom half of your body, which encourages healthy blood flow. If you already have varicose veins, walking on a daily basis can help reduce related swelling and restless legs. Also, if varicose or spider veins run in your family, walking can help delay the onset.

5. Reduces Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer

Engaging in any type of physical activity can reduce one’s risk of developing breast cancer, but a study done by the American Cancer Society that focused on walking, specifically, found that women who walked for an hour a day (or more) had a 14% reduction in their risk of developing breast cancer than those who walked fewer than three hours per week.

Now, exactly how exercising reduces one’s risk for developing breast cancer is not completely understood. Physical activity such as walking helps women maintain a healthy weight, which is thought to regulate hormones such as estrogen and insulin. These hormones can encourage the growth of cancerous cells in breasts and keeping these hormones regulated also helps keep the immune system in tip top shape. Walking can even offer this protection for women who already have extra risk factors for developing breast cancer, such as being overweight or taking supplemental hormones.

Unfortunately, another unknown factor is exactly how long women need to walk to help prevent cancer from occurring. However, we do know that some walking is better than none, and more walking is better than less.

6. Improve Bone Density

Having healthy bone density is more important than you may think. People with strong bones can avoid developing osteoporosis and the issues that are connected to it, like bone fractures, breaks, and even spine shrinkage.

According to the American Bone Health Association, the best way to help keep your bones strong is to do weight-bearing exercises such as walking. In fact, researchers found that those who participate in long-term walking programs (over six months) have better hip bone density than those who don’t walk for exercise on a regular basis. You will thank yourself in the future when your friends are getting hip replacements and you’re still feeling fine.

7. It’s a Natural Painkiller

Of course if you’re dealing with chronic pain, you may not be eager to lace up and go for a walk. In fact, here is the story of a woman in her 40s who thought just that. However, a study published in the Annals of Rehabilitative Medicine found that going for a walk on a regular basis can reduce chronic pain, and this woman is living proof of that.

Using exercise to reduce pain is all about finding the right kind of exercise. And, while walking may not cure your pain, it can be a factor in helping you manage it.

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Of those who suffer from chronic pain, many are experiencing it as a result of arthritis. Due to its effectiveness, there are actually walking programs made specifically for those suffering from disorders such as osteoarthritis. Because movement is so critical for the health and nutrition of cartilage, walking and other similar body movements are the primary ways to keep your skeletal system healthy and in working order.

According to the University of Rochester Medicine, numerous studies have shown that walking can be as beneficial as performing abdominal and back strength-training routines for people suffering from chronic lower back pain. It’s important to keep in mind if you’re walking with the intention of reducing chronic lower back pain, some studies have suggested that walking outside to address this issue is more beneficial than walking on a treadmill because it engages more muscles as you adapt to various terrains. 

And–not to mention–walking activates the endogenous opioid system, which means doing this form of exercise is a natural way to release opioids into your body to decrease pain. You’ve heard of a runner’s high–this is the same concept.

8. Improves Digestion

About 1 in 5 people suffer from some sort of digestive issue–which actually surprised me when I learned this. I figured the number would be higher, considering the frequency in which I hear people complaining about bloating, constipation, acid reflux, etc.

But even if you don’t have a chronic digestive issue, walking every day is one of the most effective ways to amp up your digestion. Exercise (such as walking) can help increase the transit time of food through your system by up to 30%, which means you can reduce your risk of constipation and reduce IBD symptoms, because the faster you can get food moving through your system, the less inflammation your body will experience.

Over time, your walking regimen can strengthen your digestive tract to keep your gut health in top shape. When you’re in shape, your digestive muscles work more efficiently to prevent you from feeling gastrointestinal discomfort.

9. Reduce Joint Pain

While you may think that the weight-bearing pressure that walking puts on your body would increase joint pain, it actually does the opposite. This is because once you get moving, the blood flow to your tense muscles increases, which can then help increase the strength of the muscles that surround your joints.

In fact, a recent study found that walking every day can postpone the development of arthritis pain in older adults. The study followed 1,564 adults who had chronic lower-body joint pain. Participants who were not able to walk for an hour each week also reported having issues completing their morning routines, while participants who were able to stick to the assigned walking routine experienced improved mobility, making everyday tasks much easier to complete.

Walking can also reduce or prevent arthritis-related joint pain. Walking not only protects your joints by strengthening the muscles around them, it also helps lubricate your joints in order to keep them easily moving. This is especially true in the knees and hips, which are most prone to osteoarthritis. By improving your mobility and range of motion, you also reduce your risk of suffering a motion-related injury.

10. It Will Help You in Your Weight Loss Efforts

There are a lot of ways in which walking can help you lose weight.

First, let’s look at the relationship between genetics, body weight, and walking. Harvard researchers studied the effects of 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people. They discovered that the impact of these 32 genes on one’s body weight was cut in half if they went for power walks for about an hour each day. This means that those who are genetically predisposed to obesity can reduce the impact of this risk factor simply by adopting a walking regimen.

Additionally, walking every day can help you lose weight if you know how many steps you have to take each day to create an appropriate calorie deficit and you commit to following through with it. This low-impact exercise is an effective way to mobilize fat, improve your body’s response to insulin, and positively change your body composition.

So what, exactly, is the secret way to walk in order to lose weight? One good place to start is to do intervals. Walking in intervals boosts your body’s “afterburn”—which refers to the calories that you continue to burn later on in the day when you’re sedentary and your walk is a distant memory (one study demonstrated that this can last for up to 38 hours after you’ve finished exercising).

The key to promoting significant afterburn is to do interval training, as the short bursts of intense energy expenditure are interrupted by recovery periods that are equally as short. To add intervals to your walking routine, do a moderately-paced warm up, and then spend 25 minutes alternating between walking for one minute at the fastest pace possible (where any faster would require you to jog) and then one minute of power walking (about a 6 out of 10 in intensity). Don’t forget to do a 2-3 minute cooldown after your intervals.

Fitness Magazine also offers a good walking interval workout for weight loss that’s 45 minutes long:

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Source

And here is a good ‘walking for weight loss’ plan to help you lose one pound per week.

Furthermore, studies have found that walking after a meal can help prevent spikes in your blood sugar (which can cause weight gain). This is because the muscles you use when you’re walking  use the glucose from your meal as energy, which draws the sugar out of your blood circulation, therefore reducing the amount of glucose flowing through your body. So, while many of us sit around after eating a large meal, it’s better to go for a walk to prevent your blood sugar from spiking and staying elevated for hours.

Lastly, and possibly the most interesting, studies from the University of Exeter discovered that walking can have an impact on the amount of chocolate you eat. Assuming that you are among the many people who reach for sweets when you’re stressed out, this could be helpful to know: the researchers found that taking just a 15-minute walk when you’re experiencing stress can reduce cravings for chocolate. Further research confirmed that walking can help reduce cravings for sugar altogether and therefore help you cut down on your intake of a variety of sugary foods.

11. Walking Can Improve Your Sleep

Getting high-quality sleep is one of the most critical factors for your overall wellness. But, if you’re like me, when you look at your sleep tracker, you have a lot of room for improvement.  Taking a brisk walk might just be the help you need to fill this void. According to the Sleep Foundation, people who walk for exercise on a regular basis fall asleep faster, stay asleep, and spend more time in the deep, restorative sleep stages than those who participated in more intense exercise or lifted weights.

If you’re already lucky enough to get the amount of sleep that your body needs every night, that doesn’t mean you should overlook this benefit of walking. This study from the Sleep Health journal compared two groups of people who claimed to already get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. One group was tasked with adding 2,000 steps to their normal daily amount and the other was instructed to make no changes. Overall, the people in the walking intervention group experienced significantly better sleep than those who didn’t increase their steps. This improvement was marked in the participants’ sleep quality rather than their sleep duration, meaning the participants who walked more slept better but not longer.

Walking every day naturally boosts the impact that melatonin (the sleep hormone) has on your body. A 2019 study found that the more light and moderate physical activity one gets, the better their sleep quality will be. On the other hand, the more sedentary time one has during the day, the shorter duration and lower quality of sleep they will have as well.

So, how exactly can walking improve your sleep? No one really knows yet, but there are quite a few potential explanations. First off, going for a walk first thing in the morning exposes you to natural light, which sets you up to have a strong circadian rhythm. Alternatively, the reduction in stress that walking provides could also be an avenue to improved sleep. Or, perhaps the social benefits you can get from walking with friends can boost your mood, and therefore improve your sleep.

While more research is needed to answer this question, for now just keep going for your daily walks to reap this benefit.

12. It Boosts Immunity

Among the most critical benefits that walking offers is its ability to boost your immune system. A study of over 1,000 adults found that participants who went for short walks–just 20 minutes a day–for at least 5 days per week called out sick from work 43% less than participants who walked just once a week (or less). Additionally, those who did get sick recovered faster and had milder symptoms if they were regular walkers.

Just like some of the other benefits we have reviewed, you may wonder how walking boosts immunity. And, just like previous answers to this question, there may be a multitude of reasons:

  • Walking may help flush bacteria from your body, which can reduce your chances of coming down with a cold, flu, or other type of sickness.
  • Walking gets your blood moving, which means your white blood cells (which fight disease) and antibodies are moving around your body also. When your white blood cells and antibodies circulate through your system faster, they may notice harmful bacteria earlier than they otherwise would.
  • The brief rise in body temperature you experience while walking could help your body fight infections by preventing the growth of bacteria.
  • Walking reduces the release of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can put your overall health at risk.
  • Walking offers comprehensive health benefits, which work together to improve your overall health. With reduced stress, improved digestion, improved sleep, improved heart health, and reduced body weight–you will naturally be healthier and less prone to contracting other diseases.

Speaking of health and immunity, if you’re worried about asthma and walking, you shouldn’t be. If you have asthma, you don't have to avoid walking, even if you’ve suffered from exercise-induced asthma in the past. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology reports that walking is an exercise option that is not likely to irritate your breathing pathways. This is especially true if you can determine and then factor in the optimal speed you should walk in order to inhale the least amount of pollution.

13. It Reduces Stress

Is there anyone living completely carefree these days? The amount of stress that many people are under every day has a serious impact on our mental and physical health.  However, research has shown that walking is one of the fastest, most effective ways to calm yourself down. In fact, many people walk with the mental health benefits in mind even more so than the physical health benefits.

Going for a quick, 10 minute walk could reduce your stress and anxiety as much as doing a full 45-minute workout. When you walk, the cortisol (i.e. your stress hormone) in your body starts to move its way out of your system, which helps reduce your physical response to stress. Furthermore, walking can help you loosen up those muscles that you’ve been tensing up due to stress.

Mentally, going for a walk helps calm your endless stream of worries and allows you to get a breath of fresh air. It gives you an opportunity to get away from stressful environments and think more freely. If you have a walking partner who will listen to your troubles and offer support, your walk can be productive in problem-solving some of your life’s stressors. Finally, being able to feel your body move is a natural stress reliever.

Final Thoughts on the Health Benefits of Walking Every Day

Getting your body moving by walking is essentially a wonder drug when it comes to preventing and relieving mental and physical health conditions. And unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs, walking doesn’t have any negative side effects, it’s easily accessible, and it’s free.

I’m sure there is at least one benefit on this list that you would love to have for your own health, and if you start walking every day, you are sure to see how walking can improve other areas of your life in ways you may not have expected.

Walking is a great activity for people of any age and fitness levels. Look into getting a pedometer (if you don’t already have one) and get to stepping!

Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.

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13 Health Benefits of Walking Every Day