9 Surprising Health Benefits of Walking

There is no shortage of options available when selecting your fitness routine. Plyometrics, circuit training, using an elliptical, and running are just a few options you can choose. But what if you don’t want to buy a gym membership or purchase expensive equipment? And what if you have a health condition that prevents you from partaking in a high-intensity activity?

The answer to these fitness woes is walking. It’s a low-impact exercise that costs nothing to do. Even more importantly, the health benefits of walking are significant, ranging from improving your cardiovascular health to boosting your energy.

1. Helps you live longer

Endless studies done on walking continue to show how beneficial it is. First and foremost: walking can increase your lifespan. A comprehensive study examining adults 60 and older found that those who took between 6,000 and 8,000 steps daily decreased their risk of dying prematurely. A separate study found that walking 7,000 steps each day reduced premature death in middle-aged adults by 50–70%.

These studies showed that regular walking leads to longevity, but it begs the question: how exactly does it add years to our life? It does so by providing full-body benefits, including improving your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, lowering your risk of disease, helping you maintain a healthy body weight, and increasing your energy.

2. Helps maintain a healthy weight

When you find an exercise you enjoy — or at the very least tolerate — you’ll make time to do it more. And the more you exercise, the more calories you burn, making it easier to lose weight and keep it off.

Interestingly, a Harvard study examined 32 genes linked to obesity in more than 12,000 people and found that those who briskly walked for about an hour each day cut the overweight-inducing effects of the genes by half.

Separate research found that a 15-minute walk not only curbs chocolate cravings but also decreases chocolate consumption by 50%. Eating less sugar and sweets can help ensure you’re not consuming more calories than you're burning in a day, thus contributing to maintaining a healthy body weight.

3. Improves cardiovascular health

Walking five days a week can lower blood pressure in those with hypertension, with research recommending it be prescribed as a therapy to help treat high blood pressure.

Walking increases your heart rate, which in turn helps lower your resting heart rate. By strengthening your heart muscle, you’re also lowering your cholesterol and decreasing your heart disease and stroke risk.

Are you wondering how frequently you need to walk to reap these heart-healthy benefits? Just 30 minutes five days a week can lower your stroke risk by 35%.

4. Lowers type 2 diabetes risk

Walking for 30 minutes five times a week reduces your type 2 diabetes (T2D) risk by 40%. Not only can walking be used as a preventative measure, but it can also help control T2D if you already have it.

Walking helps your body do a better job using insulin, helping ensure your insulin levels don’t drop or spike too rapidly.

A study examining over 200 people with type 2 diabetes found that walking just over a mile at a 20-minute pace lowered their A1c, which measures how well your body controls the amount of sugar in the blood over a two to three-month period, by 0.2%. In addition, research examining 179 patients over two years found that those who walked three miles daily reduced their drug costs associated with medication and insulin by $550 and cut other medical costs by $700.

5. Supports a strong musculoskeletal system

Walking is a weight-bearing activity that is low impact, making it great for your joints and an excellent option for those who have chronic joint pain, inflammation, or arthritis. It also builds and strengthens your muscles, lubricates your joints, and helps maintain bone mass, helping protect bones and joints from injury, slowing arthritis, and reducing osteoporosis risk.

In addition, walking helps improve the blood supply to your muscles, ensuring your musculoskeletal system is using oxygen effectively. For anyone suffering from low back pain, osteoporosis, arthritis, or joint pain or inflammation, speak to your doctor about walking recommendations, as it is one of the best options for exercising relatively pain-free while slowing or improving your disease.

6. Improves mental health

There's no need to walk for hours to reap many of its benefits, either. Even a fast but short walk each day can help reduce your risk of depression.

Research examining over 190,000 people found that walking one hour, 15 minutes weekly lowered their depression risk by 18% compared to non-exercising study participants. The most significant differences were seen between those who walked for just over an hour weekly to those who didn’t walk at all.

To treat existing depression symptoms, a separate study found that walking 20 minutes daily, three times weekly significantly helped alleviate participants' symptoms. Speaking with your doctor about this before making any changes to your treatment plan is important.

The benefits attached to walking get even better for your brain. Moving more and leading an active lifestyle can lead to a healthier, happier brain, reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And the benefits keep on coming. A 2014 study showed that when comparing walkers to those sitting, the participants moving had more creative ideas.

7. Lowers your risk of certain cancers

Regular walking, in addition to running and swimming, can decrease your risk of developing multiple cancer types, which include:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Adenocarcinoma cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Gastric cardia cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Myeloid leukemia
  • Myeloma cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Rectum cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer

Aim for walking at an average-to-brisk pace of 150 minutes weekly to gain the cancer-fighting benefits. Research examining the types of cancer reduced by walking found that participants with the highest activity levels lowered their risk between 10 and 20%.

8. Leads to better sleep

Walking during the day leads to better slumber at night. Recent research found that healthy adults who walked daily reduced their stress levels, sleeping better and for longer.

9. Boosts your immune system

Walking, along with other exercises of moderate intensity, improve your immunity. Exercising causes your body to increase your immune cells, responsible for fighting pathogens. The more immune cells you have, the less your risk of getting sick.

And if a worst-case scenario occurs and you get sick, research shows that those who regularly walk spend less time in the hospital.

Get more out of your daily walk

For even more benefits, walk outside, rather than on a treadmill, whenever possible. A study found that outdoor walking can reduce blood pressure, body fat, total cholesterol, and depression risk. Additionally, joining a walking group can help you stick to your program and provide mental health benefits, thanks to socialization. Grab a friend and head outside. Your body will thank you!

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