30 Reasons Why Walking Is the Best Exercise
When in doubt, walk.
With new workouts hitting the scene every day, it can be easy to neglect one of the easiest—and most effective—exercises of them all: walking. But while the act of walking is simple, its benefits are anything but. Walking has been shown to improve everything from heart and lung health to brain power and memory.
Still, you don't want to go about your walking routine with no strategy or goals in mind. That's why we've rounded up the best studies and science around everyone's favorite exercise. With these benefits in mind, you'll be parking your car at the opposite end of the parking garage and swapping your mid-afternoon coffee break for a mid-afternoon walk in no time.
Your steps could help your brain flow
Every step you take, you deliver more blood to your brain, according to research from New Mexico Highlands University. The researchers found that the pressure of each step's impact sends waves through the arteries and can significantly increase blood supply to the brain. They speculate that walking more could improve cognitive performance and increase wellbeing.
Walking protects you from heart failure
When American College of Cardiology researchers looked at the walking habits of 89,000 post-menopausal women over the course of ten years, they found that when it comes to walking, more is better. The more often, longer, and faster the women walked, the lower their risk for heart failure. Each factor was independently associated with a lower risk, but the biggest benefits were from those who combined all three, walking briskly for at least 40 minutes two or three times a week.
Even a little bit can have benefits
Even without hitting the CDC-recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise (or 75 minutes of working out vigorously), walking can do big things for your health. Walking a little—even if it's less than the recommended amount—is still linked with a 26 percent lower risk of dying from any cause compared to never exercising, according to a ten-year study of 139,000 older adults. Walking longer was associated with even better outcomes, but it does show that some activity is better than none.
Walking can have even bigger benefits than running
Think hitting the pavement isn't worth it if you aren't all-out running? Think again. Walking might protect against heart disease even better than running does, according to a study in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. When 33,000 runners and 15,000 walkers burned the same amount of energy, based on the distance they covered, the walking group reduced their risk of coronary heart disease by 9.3 percent, compared to 4.5 percent for the runners. They also had better improvements in their risks of first-time high blood pressure and cholesterol and a slightly lowered risk of developing diabetes.
It eases back pain
A long walk might be just antidote for an aching back. A small study of adults with chronic lower back pain found that a six-week walking program, which involved working up from a 20-minute stroll to a 40-minute walk, was just as effective for pain-relief as an expensive strengthening rehab program. At the end of their programs, both groups were able to walk farther, showed better trunk flexor endurance, and reduced back pain.
It could boost your chances of getting pregnant
If you've been having trouble starting a family, start by getting out of the bedroom—and out of the house. About 1,200 women who'd had one or two pregnancy losses tried to get pregnant for six menstrual cycles and reported whether they'd been successful. Walking was the strongest predictor of conception among women with high BMIs, according to results in the journal Human Reproduction. Overweight and obese participants who walked at least ten minutes at a time improved their chances of getting pregnant by 82 percent.
Certain strides lift your mood
You might have a naturally perkier gait when you're feeling happy, but a study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found the opposite is true, too: A happy walk brings a happy mood. Volunteers walked on a treadmill with a gauge measuring how happy their walk was. The participants didn't know what the gauge meant but were told to adjust their stance so it would move to the left (sadder) or the right (happier) while different words appeared. Those who ended up with a jolly step remembered more positive words (e.g. pretty), while the ones with a downtrodden trot had a better memory of negative words (e.g. afraid). Putting some pep in your step could change your mindset so you focus on the good in life.
It cuts risk factors in kidney disease
If you've got chronic kidney disease, it pays to get moving. A study of 6,300 kidney disease patients in China found that those who walked for exercise cut their risk of death by a third. More walking meant even bigger benefits. Patients who walked seven or more times a week were 59 percent less likely to die during the yearlong study and were 44 percent less likely to need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Walking wards off dementia
Walking doesn't just clear your head—it gives it a lasting boost. In a small study from the University of Maryland, adults with Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment took four 30-minute walks a week. By the time three months had passed, they were better at remembering groups of words. Plus, those with mild cognitive impairments showed improvements in parts of their brains associated with memory loss.
You'll naturally become more active
Commit to a walking program now, and it could have health benefits even if you give it up. For a series of studies in England, inactive adults were given pedometers and exercise advice and told to start a 12-week walking program. Three to four years later, the ones who'd started the walking programs took an extra 400 to 600 steps every day and did an extra half hour of moderate or vigorous physical activity, compared to patients who had never been told to start walking. Emphasize a daily walk, and you might find yourself racking up the steps for the rest of the day, too.
Cancer patients could avoid side effects
Inviting a friend with prostate cancer for a walk could improve some of his outcomes if he's up for it. Brisk walking and other non-vigorous activity is linked with more energy, less depression, and healthier weight, according to a study of 51,000 men being treated for prostate cancer.
It could lead to your next great idea
Stuck on a problem at work? Get away from your desk and take a lap around the block. In a series of experiments, college students were given creative thinking tests either while walking, sitting, or being pushed in a wheelchair outdoors. In every trial, the walkers came up with more creative solutions than the seated volunteers. The results held true, even in the same individuals; when they switched from walking to sitting, their most novel ideas came when they were moving.
Walking benefits stroke survivors
An easy walk can get stroke survivors on their feet when they're feeling fatigued and nervous about falling. Almost 130 stroke survivors in Jamaica got either therapeutic massages or started a three-times-a-week walking program for three months. At the end of the study, the walking group had a 17 percent bigger improvement in quality of life and went 18 percent farther during an endurance test, compared to the massage group.
It protects against "sitting disease"
Hitting the gym every single day? Optimistic. Standing up once an hour? Realistic. Thankfully, even a quick jaunt around the office could be enough to offset the health harms of too much sitting, according to a study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Looking at daily activity data from 3,200 adults wearing accelerometers, researchers found that replacing just two minutes of sitting each hour with walking or another light activity cut risk of death by 33 percent. The same didn't hold true when participants just stood up and didn't move. Consider this your excuse to pop by the water cooler.
It can be incorporated into your commute
Jumping in the car is easy, but if you live close enough to the office, you could a workout in during the time you'd normally spend driving. A study of more than 150,000 people in the United Kingdom found that employees who walked or cycled to work had lower BMIs and body fat percentages than those who drove to the office. Bonus: No more sitting in traffic!
It will keep you from replaying your regrets
If you can't stop thinking about something negative, tell those toxic thoughts to take a hike—literally. A small study had participants take a 90-minute walk through a natural environment or a city. Those who'd stepped into nature reported ruminating less and had less activity in brain regions associated with mental illness.
Walking can reduce risk of breast cancer
Yep, there are ways to protect yourself from breast cancer—and walking is one of them. A study of more than 73,000 postmenopausal women found that those whose only physical activity was walking cut their risk of breast cancer by 14 percent by moving seven hours or more per week, compared to those who only walked three hours or less.
A walk in the park can chill you out
Location, location, location. Walking in green space could give you a bigger mood boost than churning away on the elliptical. In a small study, adults took a 25-minute walk through three different locations in Edinburgh, Scotland: a shopping street, a commercial area, and a green path. Meanwhile, a device measured brain activity to gauge their emotions. When the walkers were in surrounded by green space, they were less frustrated, engaged, and aroused, and more meditative.
It's a natural antidepressant
Resist the urge to curl up on the couch; walking is a known way of boosting your mood. A study of 40 adults with major depressive disorder started a 30-minute program, either walking briskly or resting quietly. After 16 weeks, both groups decreased feelings of depression, distress, fatigue, tension, confusion, and anger, but the walkers saw additional improvements: better senses of well-being and vigor.
A friend can tag along
Asking a friend to join you on your afternoon stroll could give more benefits than just catching up on the latest gossip. A small study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that college students felt more revitalized after a 40-minute walk along a street when a friend tagged along, though the same didn't hold true during park strolls.
It can help you get over a fight
Going on a walk with your partner after a big fight could help you work things out, according to a study in American Psychologist. For one thing, you'll each get the individual benefits of stress reduction and mood boosts. A stroll can also boost rapport because walking partners tend to move in synchrony, plus, moving to a new location can help change your mindset and spark resolution. Gives a new meaning to "moving on," huh?
It's a relaxing form of physical activity
Jumping into a spin class isn't exactly the most relaxing way to spend an evening, but walking is calming and active. A study of 20 adults with high blood pressure found that walking in a forest reduced heart rate, plus gave a sense of inner peace, compared to volunteers who'd walked in an urban area. Walking among the trees also offered bigger gains in feelings of comfort, relaxation, and vigor, while decreasing senses of tension, hostility, depression, and fatigue.
It's a natural opportunity to squeeze in some meditation
You've heard of the benefits of meditation, but realistically, it can be hard to set aside time to sit quietly and do nothing. Combine it with a light workout, though, and you might finally follow through. A trial on elderly adults found that those who completed 30-minute mindful walking sessions reported they liked the sessions and continued on their own, even after the monthlong program ended.
You can get quality time with your dog
You can't take your dog to the gym, but you can take Fido around the neighborhood. And it doesn't just let your pooch stretch its legs—you get benefits, too. A study of 771 retirees found that owning a dog alone didn't give any health boosts, but walking a dog regularly was linked with lower BMI, fewer chronic health conditions, and fewer doctor visits.
It doesn't cost a dime
Unlike a pricey gym membership or an investment in specialized equipment, walking is 100 percent free, as long as you have a decent pair of shoes. In fact, getting moving could actually save you money. Inactive people spend an extra $1,437 a year on health care compared to active adults, according to data from almost 58,000 adults.
Walking adds years to your life
Want to live longer? Taking a walk is an easy place to start—and it doesn't take much. Walking briskly for up to 75 minutes each week adds 1.8 years to life expectancy, according to a study of 655,000 adults aged 21 to 90. Squeezing in 450 minutes per week led to even bigger gains: four and a half years.
It keeps your lungs healthy
Walking might not leave you huffing and puffing like other workouts—but in some ways, that's a good thing. A study of almost 400 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients found that those who walked the least were more likely to be hospitalized. The researchers concluded that walking as little as about two to four miles a day could help keep COPD patients out of the hospital.
It can steady your blood sugar
Time your walk right, and you could ward off that post-meal dip in energy. A small study of older adults at risk for pre-diabetes found that participants' blood sugar stayed steadier when they took walks during the day. The most significant results came when they took a 15-minute walk after their three meals a day, rather than squeezing all their steps in during one 45-minute bout.
You can get an education as you go
Paying attention to a podcast host or audiobook narrator could make you lose track of your reps during strength training, but keeping your headphones in won't get in the way of a simple walk. Pick an interesting book or podcast, and you could learn something new while stretching your legs. A study on college students in Tennessee found that students who got their information from a podcast performed just as well as their peers who attended a lecture. Get lost in a good book and you just might find a "quick walk around the block" turns into a 30-minute workout.
You can give yourself a destination
Next time you want to go to the grocery store, keep your car in the driveway. Walking is still exercise, even if you're using it for "active transportation" rather than pure exercise. A review of 30 studies in Preventative Medicine found that the health benefits of physical activity from walking or cycling instead of driving outweighed any potential risks like traffic and air pollution. Plus, leaving your car off means you can save money on gas. For more advice about staying healthy and feeling great, check out these 100 Anti-Aging Secrets for Looking and Feeling Younger Than Ever.