In a world of pilates, fancy cycling bikes, and HITT workouts, you may feel like you need the latest smartwatch and an expensive gym membership to get in shape, shed pounds, and feel healthier. But breaking a sweat and getting your heart rate up is a lot easier than you may think.
Often overlooked, walking has many health benefits, both physically and mentally. So, while you might be tempted to sign up for the latest exercise trend, going back to the basics is an excellent way to improve your overall health.
Wondering how adding walking into your daily routine can help? We put together this guide with the top five benefits of taking long walks.
Why you need to move your body every day
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the United States obesity level surpassed 40% for the first time in history (42.4%). Obesity is considered a public health crisis in the US due to the high level of diseases and mortality it causes each year.
While obesity can be attributed to genetics and environmental factors, experts suggest a healthy diet and regular exercise, like daily long walks, to help keep weight at a healthy number.
What you need to know about walking
Walking is considered a type of cardio workout, often referred to as low-intensity steady-state (LISS).
Many experts recommend walking briskly for at least 30 minutes a day to get the most benefits. If you find walking for 30 minutes straight is too much, try starting at 10 minute walks three times a day and gradually build up to longer walks. Walking is also a great option of physical activity for those who are overweight, elderly, or are getting back into working out.
Be sure you are wearing appropriate footwear when walking. The wrong shoe can cause blisters, shin splints, foot pain/injury, and soft tissue injury. In addition, your walking form is extremely important. Take light steps and make sure your heel touches down before your toes.
While walking poses little health risk, you should always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program or activity, especially if you have any existing medical conditions.
Health benefits of taking long walks
We know that any physical activity can help with overall health. But walking in particular, comes with a whole list of benefits that may surprise you.
Walking decreases the risk of developing chronic diseases
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends those with diabetes walk to lower blood sugar levels and help with overall diabetes management. Walking also can help lower the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing those who walked regularly had a 30% lower risk of experiencing cardiovascular events(i.e., heart attack and stroke) than those who didn't.
Longer walks are essential when it comes to disease prevention. Experts recommend 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week.
Walking cuts down on weight-gaining genes
Studies have shown that brisk walking can reduce the genetic influence of obesity. In addition, researchers at Harvard analyzed 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 men and women to learn how much these genes contribute to body weight. They found that the effects of these genes were cut in half by those who walked briskly every day.
Walking burns calories
Walking can help you burn calories to lose and maintain a healthy weight.
How many calories you burn depends on a few factors, such as:
The speed you walk
The distance you walk
The terrain- you burn more calories going uphill as opposed to walking a flat route
Your current weight
A daily walk boosts the metabolism by burning extra calories while preventing muscle loss.
Looking to burn even more calories? As your endurance improves, challenge yourself by adding a route that includes hills and alternate your walking speed.
Walking can alleviate stress and boosts your mood
In addition to supporting your physical health, walking also plays an essential role in your mental health.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), walking can reduce stress and anxiety while improving your mood. That's because exercise produces endorphins, chemicals that regulate our emotions.
Furthermore, participants in one study who spent 90-minutes walking in nature reported fewer negative feelings about themselves and had less neural activity in the parts of the brain associated with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
Walking can improve your sleep
A brisk daily walk can help you get better zzzs at night. Like other types of exercise, walking promotes the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone that enables you to snooze more soundly.
A study conducted by the Sleep Health Journal showed how getting more steps in during the day improved sleep quality at night among adults.
Keep your walks exciting and challenging
As with most exercise programs, it's easy to lose interest, especially if you do the same thing every day. Here are some tips to make walking more enjoyable:
Walk your dog
Walk with friends and family
Join a local walking club
Walk the trails at local parks
Walk at different times of day
Alternate streets around your neighborhood
Our bodies tend to get used to physical activity as well. As a result, we notice fewer results over time. You can enhance the intensity of your walks to improve your physical fitness by:
Walking up hills
Walking with hand weights
Increasing your walking speed and distance
Long, brisk walks play a fundamental role in our health and well-being. However, it's important to remember that a healthy diet, adequate sleep, stress management, and staying hydrated also work hand-in-hand with our overall health. Find out ways to rehydrate your body, especially during and after exercise of any kind, here.