Often daily walking doesn’t get the respect it deserves, either for the health benefits it provides, its worth for transportation, its convenience for just about any age, or the role it plays in recreation. And that’s concerning because, in reality, daily walking has the highest compliance rate of any other exercise with the most consistent health benefits.
“Walking is a man’s best medicine.”
When discussing the many health benefits of daily walking, it is imperative to know that current research indicates a sedentary lifestyle can have a radical impact on the health of an individual. Physical inactivity can cause genuine health issues such as upping the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, depression, obesity, and other life-threatening health conditions, such as cancer.
According to Steven Blair, PED, professor of exercise science and epidemiology at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health: “As many as 50 million Americans are living sedentary lives, putting them at increased risk of health problems and even early death.” Blair also says: “physical inactivity is the biggest public health problem of the 21st century. Research has shown approximately 25 percent to 35 percent of American adults are inactive, meaning that they have sedentary jobs, no regular physical activity program, and are generally inactive around the house or yard. This amounts to 40 million to 50 million people exposed to the hazard of inactivity.”
In 2012, researchers affiliated with the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported that, worldwide, people’s waistlines are expanding, with the total combined weight of human beings on Earth now exceeding 287 million tons. About 3.5 million tons of that global human biomass is due to obesity, a third of which exists in North America, although we account for only 6 percent of the world’s population!
The good news is that the habit of inactivity is one of the easiest habits to combat. The equipment is mostly free, no gym membership is needed, and it only takes daily walking of 20-30 minutes for your health and well-being to benefit. Along with all of this, five million lives around the world could be extended. That’s huge!
12 Health Benefits of Daily Walking
- A very affordable form of exercise benefiting the whole body.
- Increases lung power.
- Helps with weight loss and control.
- Protects from heart disease. Those that walk daily have fewer heart attacks and strokes, have lower blood pressure, and have higher levels of healthy HDL cholesterol than those who are inactive. It’s interesting to note that in one study of women, a regular walking program did just as much in the heart-protection department as more vigorous exercise did.
- Thirty minutes of walking a day make your muscles more sensitive to insulin. That allows glucose to do its duty inside your cells rather than pile up in your bloodstream (that’s what happens when you have diabetes) and cause other havoc.
- Strengthens memory. Physical activity nourishes brain tissue and stimulates its production of neurons, synapses, and blood vessels. Some studies have found that walking can counter faltering memories in people over age 50.
- Uplifts mood. Studies back up that walking benefits your mood — and may even ward off depression and anxiety.
- Regulates energy & sleep. Walking helps improve the quality of your sleep, which, in turn, will help you to keep your energy up during the day.
- May decrease the risk of some cancers. A daily walk can lower your risk of arthritis, macular degeneration, and even cancer by an astounding 50% compared with people who don’t exercise daily.
- Helps those with arthritis. Walking is gentle, mainly if you perform it with proper form and shoes. One study even found that walking (and weight lifting) improves balance in senior adults with osteoarthritis.
- Stress reduction. Research indicates that going for a walk in the woods is a great way to lower cortisol.
- It allows time to think. Sometimes we just need to think through situations, work, family issues, etc. Walking can help to clear the mind of clutter so that we can come up with ideas and solutions to concerns.
The Bottom Line: Walk More, Sit Less
Choosing daily walking or any other exercise is one of those rare things where the hype meets reality. Next to not smoking, daily physical activity is arguably the best thing you can do for your health and well-being, and yes, any amount is better than sitting.
Possibly no one summarizes the benefits of walking better than Dickens: “Walk to be healthy, walk to be happy.” Charles Dickens
References & Research
American Psychological Association. “Sedentary Lives Can Be Deadly: Physical Inactivity Poses Greatest Health Risk To Americans, Expert Says.” ScienceDaily. August 10 2009.
Sarah Catherine Walpole, David Prieto-Merino, Phil Edwards, John Cleland, Gretchen Stevens and Ian Roberts.The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass. BMC Public Health 2012, 12:439 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-439. Published: 18 June 2012.
Lee, I-Min et al. Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The Lancet, Volume 380, Issue 9838, 219 – 229.
Manson JE, Hu FB, Rich-Edwards JW, et al. A prospective study of walking as compared with vigorous exercise in the prevention of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med. 1999; 341:650-8.
Hu FB, Sigal RJ, Rich-Edwards JW, et al. Walking compared with vigorous physical activity and risk of type 2 diabetes in women: a prospective study. JAMA. 1999; 282:1433-9.
Tanasescu M, Leitzmann MF, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Exercise type and intensity in relation to coronary heart disease in men. JAMA. 2002; 288:1994-2000.
Lee IM, Rexrode KM, Cook NR, Manson JE, Buring JE. Physical activity and coronary heart disease in women: is “no pain, no gain” passé? JAMA. 2001; 285:1447-54.
Sesso HD, Paffenbarger RS, Jr., Lee IM. Physical activity and coronary heart disease in men: The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Circulation. 2000; 102:975-80.
Gregg EW, Gerzoff RB, Caspersen CJ, Williamson DF, Narayan KM. Relationship of walking to mortality among US adults with diabetes. Arch Intern Med. 2003; 163:1440-7.
Manson JE, Greenland P, LaCroix AZ, et al. Walking compared with vigorous exercise for the prevention of cardiovascular events in women. N Engl J Med. 2002; 347:716-25.
Hakim AA, Curb JD, Petrovitch H, et al. Effects of walking on coronary heart disease in elderly men: the Honolulu Heart Program. Circulation. 1999; 100:9-13.