6 Health Benefits of Walking
It's convenient. It's free. And it comes with a wealth of benefits. Don't underestimate the power of America's favorite physical activity—walking! All you have to do is lace up and head out the door (we have the best walking shoes according to podiatrists to help). No gym or fancy equipment necessary. Witness some of the latest evidence for these benefits of walking.
Must Read: Can Walking Really Help You Lose Weight?
Health Benefits of Walking
There are several reasons why walking can be a great form of physical activity. Here are a few of the specific health benefits of walking.
1. Improve Blood Sugar
A short jaunt around the block after you eat could help keep your blood sugar steady, especially if you have type 2 diabetes, according to research published in the journal Diabetologia. When adults with the condition walked for 10 minutes following every meal, they lowered their blood sugar 12 percent more, on average, than when they took a single 30-minute stroll each day. "Walking uses large muscles in your legs and torso-which require a lot of energy," explains Andrew Reynolds, Ph.D., lead study author and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Otago in New Zealand. "To get that energy, those muscles remove sugar from circulation and your blood sugar goes down." He adds that after-meal walks may also help prevent diabetes in the first place. (Get more lifestyle and diet tips to help lower blood sugar with 12 ways to lower blood sugar.)
2. Help Your Heart
You don't need crazy-hard cardio to strengthen your heart. A review of data from more than 130,000 women, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that those who walked at least 30 minutes a day significantly lowered their risk of heart failure. Other research has found that exercisers—and most of them were walkers-reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of nearly 9 mmHg, an improvement similar to that from medication, according to a meta-analysis in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking, each week is the benchmark for heart benefits, according to the American Heart Association.
3. Improve Fertility
For couples trying to get pregnant, here's a reason to hoof it: researchers from the UMass Amherst found that overweight and obese women who regularly walked for at least 10 minutes at a time were nearly twice as likely to conceive as those who didn't go for a stroll. The researchers say that being at an unhealthy weight—which applies to nearly three-quarters of us—is linked to higher levels of chronic inflammation, which can affect fertility. But walking reduces that inflammation and also may lower stress levels, both benefits that improve your odds of welcoming that bundle of joy.
4. Reduce Dementia Risk
Research has shown that those who walk regularly (think: 3 to 5 times per week for 30 to 40 minutes) had significantly lower risk of dementia than those who didn't partake in aerobic exercise. This could be because walking helps improve blood flow which can help improve cognition, but more research is needed to explain walking's impressive brain-healthy benefits. Walking is an easy way to add more aerobic exercise to your day, which can help strengthen your body and mind in the long run.
5. Promote Weight Loss
While it can sometimes get overlooked, walking is a great way to get more exercise and can help you lose weight. Finding ways to up your physical activity is key when trying to lose weight (along with what's on your plate, of course). Check out our walking plan for weight loss—no equipment required!
6. Boost Mood
Last but certainly not least, regular exercise like walking can help to boost your mood—immediately and in the long term. Plus, getting outside for a walk can help you spend more time in nature, which has proven benefits for your mental health and can help you reduce stress.
5 Ways to Get More Out of Your Walks
Spending too much time on your tush can lead to numerous health woes. But here's an easy fix: After an hour of sitting, walk around for two minutes. It could reduce your risk of early death by 33 percent, according to a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Here are some more expert tips on how to get more out of your walks, solo or with a walking buddy.
1. Go Off-Road
Moving your walks to varied terrain like grass or dirt requires you to use different muscles that can strengthen your core and improve balance, something you don't get from walking on asphalt, explains Libby Richards, Ph.D., RN, an associate professor at the Purdue University School of Nursing. Choosing a route with some gradual hills can amp up the challenge even more.
2. Add Some Weights
Make your walk more challenging by adding a weighted vest (or wear a backpack) to increase the load your body is carrying. Add no more than 5% of your body weight to start and spend only a few minutes walking in it at a time until your body gets used to it, Richards says
3. Go Fast and Slow
Dave McGovern, 15-time U.S. Champion race walker and author of The Complete Guide to Competitive Walking (buy it: $18.95, barnesandnoble.com) likes doing "turns and straights" on a school track, where you alternate between easy strolling on the turns and full-tilt walking sprints on the straightaways.
4. Work on Form
Perfecting your gait and posture will inherently help you move faster, McGovern says. Follow these three tips: Take shorter, faster steps. Land on your heels and roll all the way through the tips of your toes. And, finally, be sure to bend your arms at 90-degree angles, vigorously driving them behind your body while keeping the arm swings short in front of the body. For more, check out these simple ways to improve your walking form, according to a barre instructor.
5. Up Your Walk Time
A slower, longer workout can be just as effective as a faster, shorter one, says Richards. And hey, it means more time to chitchat too if you're walking with a partner.
Some reporting from EatingWell Magazine, January/February 2022.