Five Health Benefits of Walking

Walking is one of the easiest ways of incorporating exercise into a daily routine. That’s because research shows walking offers significant health benefits. This article addresses the top health benefits of walking backed by science. It focuses on step count, distance, and intensity for achieving the best results from a walking session.

Key takeaways:
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    Walking is one of the best ways to prevent or manage various health conditions, including dementia, heart disease, and cancer.
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    Nature walks help reduce stress levels and boost mental health.
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    Step count and intensity matter.
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    Regular, long-term commitment to walking or other forms of exercise is essential to stay healthy.

1. Walking decreases the risk of dementia

A 2022 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found that walking 10,000 steps daily reduced the risk of dementia by 50%. This study involved 78,430 men and women.

Researchers noted that only 20% of this group reached 10,000 steps daily. Steps performed at a higher intensity resulted in a stronger association between health benefits. However, even walking 3800 steps per day was associated with a 25% lower incidence of dementia, according to this study.

2. Walking lowers stress levels

A review of multiple studies featured in Medical News Today found that walking in nature helps reduce stress levels by influencing the brain areas involved in stress processing. While a one-hour walk may be a great option, there is evidence showing that even a 15-minute nature walk can lower cortisol levels — a steroid hormone commonly referred to as the “stress hormone”. Living in urban areas appears to correlate with an increased risk of mental health disorders compared with those living in rural areas. Living in the city is associated with increased activity in the amygdala. It’s the part of the brain that regulates fear, stress, and other emotions — also commonly known to affect the “fight or flight” response. Thus, walking in nature counteracts the negative effects that urban living has on mental health.

3. Walking aids in weight loss

One of the best ways to reduce belly fat is to incorporate aerobic exercise, such as walking, into a daily routine. Walking a mile burns about 100 calories, depending on gender and weight. Like other forms of exercise, walking helps burn fat while preserving lean muscles. By helping lower stress levels, walking also decreases appetite, particularly cravings and emotional eating. For optimal benefits, combine daily walks with a healthy diet to aid with weight loss — and maintain it long term.

4. Walking benefits cardiovascular health

Walking may lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, according to a review of multiple studies. While all forms of walking help prevent heart disease and stroke, risk reduction improves with longer duration, distance, and pace. In one study evaluating women, the risk of heart disease decreased by 14%, 51%, and 52% in the participants who reported between 1–59 minutes, 1–1.5 hours, and more than 2 hours weekly of walking, respectively, compared to those who did not walk regularly. In another study performed in men, the participants who reported a walking pace of between 2–3, 3–4, and more than 4 mph experienced 26%, 40%, and 50% reductions in risk of fatal and non-fatal heart diseases, respectively, compared to those walking slower than 2 mph.

Walking is heart healthy because it helps reduce high blood pressure, promotes a healthy weight, reduces inflammation, and eases stress.

5. Walking may help prevent or cope with cancer

Numerous studies found that cancer incidence decreases with increased physical activity. In addition to preventing cancer, walking and other exercises can help individuals already diagnosed with cancer. Exercise can reduce the side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Studies conducted on breast, colon, and prostate cancer survivors found strong associations between exercise and decreased risk of dying from cancer. Walking for three hours weekly may reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer while walking for six hours weekly suggests a reduction in the risk of colon cancer. However, increasing the intensity of walking did not offer additional benefits. In contrast, more vigorous exercise may improve survival rates in men with prostate cancer compared with walking, according to research.

Walking to optimize health

Counting the number of daily steps is a popular approach for achieving fitness goals for Americans. Many health apps suggest taking 10,000 steps daily.

Researchers suggest that the optimal daily step count is between 6000-8000 to reduce the risk of dying. A recent scientific study found that nearly 10,000 steps — 9800 to be more precise — help reduce the risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer, and overall death rate. Increasing walking intensity also provides additional benefits. Furthermore, other studies found that walking is beneficial for weight loss and lowering stress levels.

Some may choose to walk 10,000 steps a day, while others may walk less but with increased intensity, a.k.a power walking. Walking is free and one of the easiest forms of exercise to incorporate into a daily routine. However, any aerobic exercise routine is beneficial — swimming, running, or cycling.

Local gyms charge membership fees, but they can help to maintain a regular schedule for those who need additional motivation. In addition to treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes, gyms also offer various classes. After a moderate to intense workout, walking outside for 20-30 minutes can help prevent muscle soreness.

Based on current recommendations, a combination of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two sessions of strength training per week for adults is best to maintain optimal health.

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