26 Amazing Health Benefits of Walking
Health experts share their advice, along with scientific studies that confirm the benefits of walking.
It's a no-brainer that any type of physical activity is good for you. In fact, a recent study showed that even walking just 4,000 steps is incredibly beneficial. And given that walking is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to get yourself moving, this is certainly welcome news. But there are so many more reasons to lace up those sneakers; walking has been shown to improve everything from heart and lung health to brain power and memory. Looking for a little extra motivation to hit the pavement? Keep reading to learn about 26 amazing health benefits of walking, according to health experts and scientific studies.
26 Health Benefits of Walking
1. Walking can help your brain health.
Every step you take delivers more blood to your brain, according to 2017 research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The researchers found that the pressure of each step's impact sends waves through the arteries that can significantly increase blood supply to the brain. Therefore, they speculate that walking more could improve cognitive performance and increase well-being.
2. It protects you from heart failure.
In 2018, after American College of Cardiology researchers looked at the walking habits of 89,000 post-menopausal women over 10 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.
To this point, Raj Dasgupta, MD, chief medical advisor for Sleep Advisor, says walking "can improve your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and energy levels, plus it can fight weight gain to improve heart health overall."
3. 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 2013 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.
4. Walking strengthens muscles, joints, and bones.
High-impact activities like running can wreak havoc on your joints, while weightlifting can be too intense for some people.
Walking, however, "is a low-impact exercise that is easy on your joints and engages the legs, buttocks, and core," notes Ronny Garcia, CPT, a trainer with Blink Fitness.
"The impact of each step carrying our weight when walking breaks down the muscle fibers in the legs causing them to repair and come back stronger every time which in turn builds muscle," further explains Lindsay Tullis, NBC-HWC, a health coach at Mighty Health. "Maintaining muscle also helps to preserve surrounding bone and helps to slow conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis."
5. Walking eases back pain.
A long walk might be just what the doctor ordered for an aching back. A 2012 study of adults with chronic lower back pain, published in Clinical Rehabilitation, 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, with reduced back pain.
6. It boosts your chances of getting pregnant.
If you've been having trouble getting pregnant, consider starting a walking routine. A 2018 study published in the journal Human Reproduction monitored 1,200 women who'd had one or two pregnancy losses.
The women tried to get pregnant for six menstrual cycles and reported whether they'd been successful, which led the researchers to report that walking was the strongest predictor of conception among women with high BMIs. Overweight and obese participants who walked at least 10 minutes at a time improved their chances of getting pregnant by 82 percent.
7. Certain strides can lift your mood.
You might have a naturally perkier gait when you're feeling happy, but a 2015 study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found that the opposite is true, too: A happy walk leads to 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 (like "pretty"), while the ones with a downtrodden trot had a better memory of negative words (like "afraid").
8. Walking reduces the risk of death in people with kidney disease.
If you have 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.
The study, published in 2014 in the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology, found that 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.
9. It wards off dementia.
Walking doesn't just clear your head—it gives your mind a lasting boost. In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 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.
10. Walking improves balance.
According to Tullis, a hidden benefit of walking is that it improves balance.
"With every step you take, you shift your center of mass and challenge your balance… Your body is practicing catching itself and transitioning into the next step," she explains. "This is even more improved if walking outdoors on rocky terrain or up and down hills. You can challenge your balance even further by adding some toe walks or backward walks to your regular walking routine!"
11. A walking routine will naturally make you more active.
Commit to a walking program now, and it could have health benefits even if you don't stick to it. For a series of studies in England, the results of which were published in 2018 in PLOS Medicine, 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.
12. And it protects against "sitting disease."
Even a quick jaunt around the block could be enough to offset the health hazards of sitting all day, according to a 2015 study published 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 the risk of death by 33 percent. The same didn't hold when participants only stood up and didn't move.
13. It can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
A study of more than 73,000 postmenopausal women—published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2013—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.
14. A walk in the park can chill you out.
Location, location, location. Walking in green spaces could give you a bigger mood boost than simply strolling around the block.
In a 2015 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 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 surrounded by green space, they were less frustrated, engaged, and aroused, and more meditative.
15. Walking is a natural antidepressant.
Resist the urge to curl up on the couch when you're feeling down; "walking releases endorphins which are natural mood lifters," says Garcia. "They can promote relaxation and alleviate anxiety/depression."
A notable 2005 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise had adults with major depressive disorder start a 30-minute program, either walking briskly or resting quietly. After 16 weeks, both groups had decreased feelings of depression, distress, fatigue, tension, confusion, and anger, but the walkers saw additional improvements including better senses of well-being and vigor.
16. And it can help you get over a fight.
Just got into an argument with your partner or a disagreement with a friend? Going on a walk together after a big fight could help you work things out, according to a 2017 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—and moving to a new location can help change your mindset and spark resolution. Gives a new meaning to "moving on," huh?
RELATED: 8 Easy Ways to Make Walking More Fun.
17. Walking in nature can relax you.
Walking is unique in that it's active and calming at the same time, especially when done outdoors.
A study of adults with high blood pressure, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2015, found that walking in a forest reduced heart rate. It also gave participants a sense of inner peace compared to volunteers who 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.
18. Walking outside provides vitamin D.
Walking outside also can help you get your daily dose of vitamin D, says Serena Poon, celebrity chef, nutritionist, reiki master, and longevity wellness expert.
"Vitamin D is an important nutrient that is difficult to get from food and is therefore often taken in supplement form. Your body can also create Vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunlight," she explains. "Getting your daily dose of Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption and can also reduce the risk of some diseases and support cognitive health." (Just be sure to put on sunscreen if you'll be walking outdoors!)
19. And 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 find the motivation 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 month-long program ended, as documented in a 2017 study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.
"Elevate the mindfulness of your walk by dedicating moments to observe the world unfolding around you as you stroll," suggests Poon.
20. You can get quality time with your dog on walks.
Stepping out with your pooch doesn't just let him stretch his legs—you get benefits, too. A 2017 study of retirees published in The Gerontologist 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.
RELATED: 6 Best Walking Workouts for Weight Loss.
21. Walking 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 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, published in the journal Respirology in 2014, 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.
22. It can steady your blood sugar.
Time your walk right, and you could ward off that post-meal dip in energy. A 2013 Diabetes Care 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 each of their three meals a day, rather than squeezing all their steps in during one 45-minute bout.
23. And improve digestion.
Another benefit to walking after meal times is improved digestion, according to Tullis.
"Taking a walk following a meal helps move the food through the intestines more rapidly and helps to stimulate the stomach," she shares. "Walking after a meal also helps move excess gas through the digestive system to reduce bloating and acid reflux."
24. Walking could lead to your next great idea.
Stuck on a problem at work? Get away from your desk and take a few laps 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, published in 2014 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, showed that even after the same individuals switched from walking to sitting, their most novel ideas came when they were moving.
"It gives your mind a break from routine tasks, allowing it to wander and make new connections, which can lead to creative insights and problem-solving," explains Poon.
25. You can get an education as you walk.
Paying attention to a podcast host or an audiobook narrator can be a challenge when you're lounging at home, but it's easy enough to stay focused on a walk. Pick an interesting book or podcast, and you could learn something new while stretching your legs.
In a 2011 study on college students published in the journal Computers & Education, researchers 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.
26. Walking adds years to your life.
Ultimately, this is what it comes down to. If you 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 2012 study of 655,000 adults published in PLOS Medicine. Squeezing in 450 minutes per week led to even bigger gains: four-and-a-half years. So stop staying cooped up at home, and get on your feet.
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