Walking daily for fitness, as an exercise, seems so passive and yet gives health benefits to your body that span a number of preventive advantages – even increasing your lifespan by as much as seven years!
2400 years ago, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, said, “Walking is a man’s best medicine.” Today, this truth reverberates loud and clear and is practiced most widely.
Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known to have meetings while on his walking rounds.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg also holds meetings on foot. Many of us too walk around while drumming up ideas.
Moreover, many people have noted that walking does bring out the creativity in us, by boosting inspiration levels.
It benefits almost all the systems of the body including the cardiovascular system, the bony system, the pulmonary system, the metabolism, the skin and prevents or benefits already existing health ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, raised cholesterol and more.
How Regular Walking Benefits Body and Health?
1. Benefits on diabetes
When you walk, your muscles require glucose for energy. The muscles, therefore, draw glucose from the blood for their requirements. This prevents glucose from building up in the blood.
This is the basic reason how walking burns blood sugar and reduces it in patients with diabetes. However, to keep up this benefit, it should be an everyday affair as this benefit on diabetes of one walk lasts only for hours or a couple of days at the most.
According to the American Diabetes Association,
“Data show that moderate exercise such as brisk walking reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and all studies support the current recommendation of 2.5 h/week of a moderate aerobic activity or typically 30 min/day for 5 days/week for prevention.”
2. Improves brain cognitive function
A moderate walk regularly can boost your brainpower and improve your mental health and memory. This is more enhanced when you have your walk through a natural landscape.
When you walk regularly, the thinking ability of your brain towards knowledge and awareness improves due to perception and action.
In short, it improves the cognitive function of the brain. There is a suggestion also that walking has a preventive action on Alzheimer’s disease.
Various studies conducted in this regard have given enough evidence to prove this fact. This article by the New York Times gives ample evidence of this fact.
3. Benefits on heart and blood pressure
Various studies indicate that walking daily for 30 minutes makes your heart stronger and exercises the heart muscles to pump out more blood to the body. This increases the heart rate due to the body’s increased requirement for blood during exercise.
A daily brisk walk has a beneficial action on blood pressure, your blood cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. All these factors synergistically improve heart function and health.
Prophylactically, regular walking significantly reduces the risk of heart diseases and heart attack. If you have already had a heart attack, walking also forms an important part of the cardiac rehabilitation program.
A daily walk reduces your risks of cardiovascular diseases by 31 %. These statistics apply equally both in men and in women. It is a positive way by which you can reduce the risk of heart disease.
4. Walking reduces raised cholesterol levels
According to the U.S. government’s National Cholesterol Education Program, daily brisk walking significantly reduces LDL (the bad cholesterol), triglycerides, and increases HDL (the good cholesterol).
It helps to lower the cholesterol levels in men more than in women. For every 1 percent drop in blood cholesterol levels, there is a 2 percent decrease in heart attack risk.
How much should you walk to reduce your cholesterol?
Most health organizations recommend a daily 30-minute brisk walk to have a beneficial effect on your blood cholesterol levels. You could reduce your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels by as much as 15% and increase your good cholesterol (HDL) levels by as much as 20%.
5. Walking strengthens your bones
Walking benefits bone health when taken up at any age. Various studies link regular physical activity with increased bone strength in children, teens, adults and even people aged 90 years and more.
Over time, say, over 6 to 9 months of regular walking, there is a more positive stimulation of bone formation, an increase in bone density and bone health.
In postmenopausal women, walking can be very helpful in this regard and they should compulsorily take it up as a regular feature. It will significantly reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is common in women of this age. This is part of osteoporosis therapy.
How does walking benefit your bones?
- First, regular physical activity such as walking stimulates bone formation.
- Second, it strengths your muscles that are attached to the bones and tug them. This firms up the bones and keeps them strong.
- Third, it improves your balance and coördination and prevents you from falling thereby preventing bone injuries.
6. How walking benefits cancer?
Studies conducted have shown that walking prevents colon cancer. In women, walking significantly reduced the risk of breast cancer.
In a person who already has breast cancer or colon cancer, it improved the mortality rate. It has also found to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer by 30% in women. (Endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus).
According to a study published online April 6, 2015, in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and others:
“Walking briskly an hour a day results in the greatest benefit in terms of a longer life”.
Studies suggest that moderately intense exercise such as brisk walking can help women prevent breast cancer or its recurrence by decreasing the female hormones that cause breast cancer, and by decreasing inflammation in the body, which is a suspected cause of many diseases.
Studies indicate that the greatest benefits accrue from walking at an average speed of a 20-minute mile for 3-5 hours weekly.
7. Walking gives good sleep and prevents insomnia
In people with insomnia, walking can be of great help. However, a cooling off period of two hours or so may be necessary between walking and going to sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation,
“ effects of a single exercise session found that a bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g., walking) reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the length of sleep of people with chronic insomnia compared to a night in which they did not exercise. However, in the same study, vigorous aerobic exercise (e.g., running) or lifting weights did not improve sleep. ”
Walking helps you to go to sleep, firstly by tiring you and secondly by its action on reducing your mental stress.
8. Walking benefits on metabolism
Metabolism is a process, which converts the food you eat into energy that is required to perform daily functions, including functions like breathing or digestion.
Walking increases the body requirement of energy, which is acquired through increased metabolism. The importance and benefits of increased metabolism lie in the fact that you stay more energized.
More calories are burnt which in turn helps you to lose unnecessary weight and optimum processing of nutrients keeps you healthy.
9. Walking helps to lose weight
Walking regularly or daily to lose weight helps to burn calories and builds up your health. Burning your calories is the basic requirement to lose weight because it is the excessive consumption of calories in your diet that make you gain weight. It will help you lose those calories, which make you overweight or obese and also help you trim your waist.
To control your weight, you need to add 30 minutes of brisk walking to your daily routine. This will help you lose 150 calories every day.
You can lose more calories by walking more and with greater speed. To get more benefits, you must walk with a moderate to an intense degree.
If you are just starting out, walk slowly with less intensity to warm up. Later, you can gradually build up the speed and the length of the walk.
It is important to know how many miles you need to walk to lose how much weight. The normal pace of walking is roughly 4 miles per hour. Walking one mile daily with this pace will help you lose about 400 calories in one hour.
To lose one pound per week, you need to lose about 500 calories per day. That means you need to walk 5 miles daily to lose one pound in one week
You could walk on a treadmill or in Nature Park. You just need to sweat and lose the calories.
With the help of the above stats, you could plan your weight loss program and see the results. Needless to add, you have to eat the right foods and stick to the diet prescribed by your dietician.
10. Benefits on stress and depression
When you suffer from mental stress or are depressed, it is natural that you would not want to do anything but think of your problem and how you can make them go away. Exercising or walking is the last thing on your mind.
Nevertheless, this is exactly what you should primarily do. Make walking a daily habit. It will significantly relieve your stress. Do it in a park, which has an abundant of nature surroundings. Nature has a soothing effect your mind. It will work like magic though you may not realize it at first.
A study conducted showed that persons who walked regularly experienced reduced mental stress and depression. During any stress, there is increased secretion of the hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which help you deal with the stress.
Accumulation of these hormones is bad and can give rise to certain diseases including hypertension.
As walking increases metabolism, it helps in metabolizing these hormones and reducing their unwanted accumulation. It also stimulates secretion of endomorphism, a hormone, which increases your threshold to bear stress.
Another advantage isthat it builds up your body temperature, which has a calming effect on your mind.
If you walk with a friend or friends, the conversation takes your mind off your worries relieving your tension.
11. Walking helps to relieve and prevent constipation
If you suffer from constipation, you need to speed up your bowel movements a bit. A sluggish bowel slows down your bowel evacuation making you feel rather off track. Regular physical activity such as walking can improve your bowel movements helping with its proper evacuation.
A study conducted, put people with chronic constipation on regular brisk walking exercise. It showed a marked recovery from constipation. This was done without any dietary changes.
A daily walk will improve your digestion and stimulate the intestinal movements helping in bowel evacuation.
Wait for an hour or two after a meal before you take that walk. This is because, after a meal, more blood flows to the stomach and the intestines to help you digest the food.
However, if you walk during this period, more blood will flow to the muscles rather than to the stomach. This will hinder the digestion.
12. Walking prevents erectile dysfunction (impotence)
A study conducted by the school of medicine in the university of Boston showed remarkable improvements in sexual activity of persons who walked briskly for about 2 miles every day.
According to another study by Harvard, just 30 minutes of walking every day, “was linked with a 41% drop in risk for ED.” This included not just the elderly but also middle-aged men. This is because walking does increase blood circulation to all parts of the body, including the penis.
Secondly, as mentioned above, it reduces LDL and increases HDL. This prevents atherosclerosis, which results again in improved blood flow. You should know that penile erection is a direct result of increased blood flow to the penis.
13. Benefits during pregnancy
Walking may be the best exercise during all the nine months of pregnancy due to it being passive in nature. Any arduous exercise may not be indicated in pregnancy.
It does not burden your knees and other joints as some exercises can.
Walking will tone up the muscles of the expecting mother and facilitate an easier normal delivery. It will also ensure a proper sleep and reduce the stress experienced by a pregnant mother. You have to take an okay from your obstetrician, though.
Precaution: Do not push yourself too much to the point of becoming breathless or exhausted.
14. Benefits on skin
To improve your skin complexion, walking plays an important part. It improves your blood circulation to all parts of the body, including the skin. Increased blood received by the skin results in
- more toxins being removed from the skin via sweating,
- increased nutrients received by the skin making it more healthy,
- slowing the aging process of the skin,
- increased production of collagen, giving the skin the plum and fresh look.
15. Exposure to the sun
If you take up walking as your regular exercise, do it in the morning sun. The morning sun rays are soft and will not damage your skin.
Secondly, you will get your daily dose of vitamin D, which is so essential for your body and health.
Ninety percent of your vitamin D requirement comes from the exposure to sunlight and only 10 percent is derived from the foods you eat.
The importance of vitamin D cannot be overstressed. To name a few of the benefits of walking in the morning soft sun:
- Boosts levels of the hormone, serotonin, which keeps you in a good mood
- It keeps your bones strong
- Keeps your teeth strong and prevents the formation of cavities
- Prevents diabetes
- Lowers risk of heart diseases
- Reduces risk of cancers
- Boosts fertility
- Improves your immunity
- Improves your skin
How fast should you walk for these benefits?
You should always start your walk at a slower pace, as a warm up of sorts, and gradually increase your speed and maintain it throughout. An ideal walking speed is 3 to 4 miles per hour (mph).
Outdoor walking is preferable to indoor as the natural surroundings provide a boost to your cognitive function.
How much should you walk?
The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association (ACSM/AHA) recommend a minimum of thirty minutes of moderate intensity walking minimum five times a week to improve health and fitness.
You can divide these 30 minutes every day into two bouts of 15 minutes each. For added benefits, you could extend this time period.
Walking benefits on health, as shown above, are too good to ignore even by the laziest of us.
However, before starting your walking exercise, do have a talk with your doctor to rule out any contraindications you may have.