We have all heard about the benefits of exercising. They are indisputable and definitely necessary. With so many illnesses and the obesity cases at frightening numbers, there is an immediate need for proper education when it comes to types of exercising and their benefits.
In this article, we will discuss the ways walking changes our bodies, leading to a healthier life and lowering the risks of disease. After writing about jackets, and sport jackets in particular, in this post we wanted to see why walking and exercising is so important.
Many of the people who exercise regularly can list a lot of reasons why, to them, working out has become a routine activity. From getting fit, to feeling less stressed out, the reasons go on and on.
When it comes to walking, though, there are some that consider it to be sort of a useless form of exercising. Because it’s not as challenging as running, and does not help in building upper body muscles, it is more than often overlooked.
However, there are numerous studies, which prove that walking has many benefits and is the best starting exercise for beginners.
Walking is not as harsh on the knees and ankles as running is, and it is definitely the easiest form of activity. It is low-impact, meaning that there will be a very low risk of walking-related injuries, and you can practically go walking anywhere and at any time.
Some might be more serious about walking as a form of exercise and try to make time specifically for that. This might not suit everyone, however, because some are too tired after work, or simply do not have the time to spend an hour going around town.
Well, this is the good of walking, you can start very small, say by taking the stairs or getting off the chair for even 2 minutes every hour. You can walk instead of driving to and from work, or when going to the store. You don’t need to walk for hours in order to benefit from walking, even as little as 30 minutes at least four to five times a week, can improve your health immensely.
And it does not have to be done all at once. Break it into intervals of 5 or 10 minutes, if that’s what works best with your daily schedule.
Another thing that makes walking a preferable activity, is that it doesn’t require exercising gears, such as specific clothes, shoes or machines. Of course, a good pair of walking shoes would be ideal, but any pair of shoes that you are comfortable in, work just as well.
With all that being said, what are the actual benefits of walking? Why do we hear and read about it so often and why do doctors and health professionals recommend it so much?
Without anymore delay, let’s get right into it and discuss the reasons why you should start walking, as a form to exercise, today, for a healthier body and mind.
Table Of Contents
- 1. Burning Calories
- 2. Reducing Stress
- 3. Mental Health Benefits
- 4. Decrease In Risk Of Cancer
- 5. Lowering Diabetes Risk
- 6. Lowering Blood Pressure
- 7. Lowering Cholesterol Levels
- 8. Easing Arthritis Pain
- 9. Maintaining Bone Density
- 10. Easing Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
- 11. Helping With Insomnia And Irregular Sleeping Patterns
1. Burning Calories
This is the most well-known benefit when it comes to exercising in general. As mentioned above, people often overlook walking because it isn’t considered a very effective way of burning fat and calories. Studies suggest otherwise, though, with a significant amount of calorie burning, despite it being such a low-impact and beginner-friendly form of exercise.
When it comes to it, the distance you walk and how much you weigh are determining factors of burning calories while walking.
As mentioned here, you should aim to increase the distance walked, rather than the speed, especially if you are a beginner. Afterwards, the increase in pace will come naturally as you walk longer distances in less time.
If you are going to use walking as the only exercising form, then there are tips and ways to burning more calories during that time. Using your arms for example, in coordination with your steps, will help significantly because more muscle groups will be involved, and whenever muscles are being worked, the more calories are burned.
Also keeping in mind to watch your diet, will help to achieve your goals much faster than if you were only exercising.
2. Reducing Stress
Numerous studies show that exercising lowers the level of stress significantly. Despite there being no clear indication as to which mechanisms provide such a benefit, the improvement is definitely perceivable.
Scientist suspect that exercising has a “toughening” effect on our brains, making us more resilient towards situation that we might perceive as stressful or challenging.
So if you are feeling as if you’re about to lose it from a lousy day at your job, walk home. It will certainly improve your mood, afterwards.
3. Mental Health Benefits
Not only does walking improve your stress levels and response, it also helps as a form of treating depression and anxiety. This fact has been observed in many different areas linked to exercise.
Several studies show that there might be a possible link between serotonin levels and depression. When this hormone is deficient in the brain, it affects the mood and might worsen the symptoms of depression.
Exercising helps by stimulating the production of this hormone, along with endorphins and endocannabinoids. This is an important process, because it regulates the mood as well as our mental and emotional response towards daily situations.
Another benefit of walking is the sense of accomplishment and therefore the boost in confidence.
Since it is an easy activity, setting goals and accomplishing them is almost always guaranteed, and who doesn’t enjoy knowing they have accomplished something they set their minds on?
Also, walking and exercise in general are a great form of distraction. This is useful when you are constantly worrying or anxious about things in your life. Taking your mind off it, even for a short period of time, is shown to be beneficiary to your mental well-being.
Another important study shows that there is a difference in results when it comes to the environment in which you decide to exercise.
The study focused on hiking and observed the difference between hiking in nature and hiking in urbanized areas. Those who hiked for 90 minutes in nature, showed a major improvement in decreasing both self-reported rumination, the process of lingering in negative thoughts, and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC).
Exercise has also been shown to be a healthy way of coping, as opposed to drinking, overeating or indulging in activities that might prove futile or cause major problems, such as ignoring signs of depression, or dwelling in negative thoughts while hoping your symptoms of depression will go away on their own, increasing therefore the risk of worsening the situation, or leading to suicidal thoughts.
Further reading: Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms
4. Decrease In Risk Of Cancer
For some time now, there has been evidence that exercise might be an important factor in lowering the risk of developing cancer. The most concluding studies targeted breast cancer and how walking may lower the risk of women developing this type of cancer.
Women who walked around 7 hours a week, were shown to have a 14 percent less risk, and those who walked even more, at around 10 hours a week, showed an even greater improvement, at 25 percent less risk of developing breast cancer.
The ratio of estrogen metabolites in urine is used as an indicator of breast cancer risk. In this study, it was observed that the participating women who did not exercise, had no change in their estrogen metabolites, as opposed to the women who exercised, whose metabolite levels shifted in a ratio that indicates a lower risk of breast cancer.
Despite it not being a definite proof, the statistics show that exercising is beneficiary and might help in lowering the risk of developing cancer, and since walking is such an easy activity, the sensible thing is to make it part of your day.
5. Lowering Diabetes Risk
One of the most heard-of and unfortunately common diseases is diabetes. There are three types of diabetes, but Type 2 is related to insulin-resistance, a condition which overweight people are at a higher risk of developing.
With obesity numbers so high and sedentary life, the risk of developing diabetes is a frightening prospect. Although manageable, this condition is life threatening and requires constant monitoring.
There is some hope, though, since losing weight for people who are at a pre-diabetes stage or at a high risk of developing this condition, has been shown decrease insulin resistance and improve the levels of blood glucose.
Walking is one of the main contributors in lowering the risk for diabetes, because it aids in losing weight and also lowers after-meal blood glucose levels.
A study that lasted for five years, showed that the participants who walked regularly had a higher insulin sensitivity and for those who have heard that you need to walk 10,000 steps a day, it has been proven that those who do so, increased their insulin sensitivity threefold.
Further reading: To Ward Off Diabetes, Walk
6. Lowering Blood Pressure
Another indisputable benefit of walking is lowering blood pressure. Blood pressure is a very serious issue, when it comes to general health, because it puts you in risk of angina, heart attack or myocardial infarction, which can prove fatal.
A healthy diet is key to being generally healthy, but if you lead a sedentary life, a healthy diet alone just does not cut it.
Walking has been shown to lower blood pressure significantly, even for as little as 30 minute walks, three times a week. This is good news, because you will not have to make extra time and effort in order to have a healthy heart. Even breaking the 30 minutes into 10 minute intervals, will give you the same results and benefits.
As mentioned in this article by WebMD, the participants in a study, that were separated into three groups by level of exercising, showed that those who walked for 30 minutes, three and five times a week, had significant results in lowering blood pressure and losing centimeters around the waist and hips. And those in the third group who were told not to change their sedentary routine, showed no improvement.
Therefore, even by just the smallest effort, you can improve your blood pressure levels and overall health.
7. Lowering Cholesterol Levels
Walking is an aerobic activity and studies conducted over many years have shown that aerobic activities have a major role in lowering Low Density Cholesterol (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol.
They also show that there is a raise in High Density Cholesterol (HDL) levels, which is known as good cholesterol. LDL in our blood should be low, in order to have a decreased risk of coronary heart disease and developing atherosclerosis.
According to this article, based on studies done by several Universities, such as University of Minnesota and those of Colorado and Virginia, there are significant decreases in cholesterol levels, when weight loss is combined with physical activity.
Walking in itself helps considerably, but losing weight means less body fat, which in turns means lower LDL levels. This is very important in ensuring a low risk of heart disease.
8. Easing Arthritis Pain
Arthritis is a common condition in older people, and sometimes it can affect middle-aged men and women as well. It is painful and makes most activities uncomfortable or even unbearable.
With that in mind, most people suffering from arthritis barely exercise. For most people it is too painful. For others it is a worrisome thing, because they might think that something that triggers such pain is certainly damaging.
However, doctors say that exercising, even lightly, may bring quite a bit of relief. Since it strengthens muscles, especially if you include your arms as well, while walking, the range of motion increases and therefore it shifts the pressure from the joints, helping alleviate some of the pain from arthritis.
Weight loss because of walking is another thing that aids in cases with arthritis, because you weight less and there isn’t as much pressure on the joints.
Another very helpful benefit of walking when you suffer from arthritis is the movement itself. Because joints have no direct blood supply, they get their nutrition from the synovial fluid, located between the joints. When walking, the joints move back and front, causing the synovial fluid to circulate and the impact of touching the foot to the ground, helps oxygen and nutrients to enter the cartilage area.
This is very important because if there is not enough movement, a decline in adequate joint lubrication and nutrition speeds up the deteriorating process.
Further reading: Exercise is good, not bad, for arthritis
9. Maintaining Bone Density
Loss in bone density leads to osteoporosis, a condition very prominent in menopausal women. While there is no immediate threat to the life of those who suffer from it, it’s not a condition to be taken lightly. Bone fractures are much more often than they should be, if the person is not careful. And they take much longer to heal than they would normally.
While walking will not cure osteoporosis, it helps in maintaining bone density, preventing further thinning of the bone, which may prove crucial when combined with proper supplements and doctor–prescribed medication.
Further reading: Is Walking Good for Osteoporosis?
10. Easing Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder that involves irregular bowel contraction, leading to spasms, pain, constipation, bloating and diarrhea.
Walking is a known beneficiary of this condition. It helps regulate the bowel muscles’ movement, also known as peristalsis, to contract in a regular pattern, as it should be.
Factors that worsen symptoms of IBS are anxiety and stress. Because walking and exercising in general, help in stress management and relieve anxiety symptoms, as mentioned above, this is very helpful when it comes to warding off IBS spasms and pain.
Michael Roizen MD, from Cleveland Clinic, recommends a 30 minute walk every night after dinner. This will aid in regulating bowel movement, help in digestion and also help to relieve bloating.
11. Helping With Insomnia And Irregular Sleeping Patterns
For those who suffer from insomnia or have difficulty sleeping at night, there is a study that might provide some help.
While exercise in general is helpful into getting a good night’s sleep, scientists say that exposure to daylight in the morning could prove a functional method of regulating the body clock. This is called light therapy and its intent is to regulate the natural sleeping patterns by exposed to proper light in the morning.
A good way for getting this much needed light, is walking. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, it will signal our internal pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which responds to light, and therefore it will start to regulate the normal sleeping cycle.
Further reading: Could a walk cure insomnia?
There you go, 11 reasons to walk to a healthier and happier you. Walking is such a practical way of exercising and you cannot go wrong with it.
So, whether it is to lose weight or lower common health risks, or just for the fun of going out there and exploring the nature and the town you live in, walking is definitely the way to go.
You can customize it to suit your schedule, daily activities and fitness level. There is no need for a gym membership, special gears or schedule rearranging. Whenever you can walk instead of drive, take the stairs instead of the elevator or just pace around the office or your home whenever possible, you will be doing your body and mind a great favor.
Further reading: Walking: Your steps to health