9 Science-Backed Benefits of Walking for Overall Health
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around one hundred and fifty minutes of moderate exercise every week or seventy-five minutes of intense exercise are required to improve one’s health. However, only twenty percent of adults in the United States actually achieve those targets on a regular basis.
There are so many different ways to exercise, but sometimes convenience, cost, and overall health concerns get in the way. Walking is a great way to get your heart pumping and break a sweat
Here are 9 known health benefits of walking:
1. Walking Promotes Bone Health and Improves Bone Density Over Time
As we age, our bones become more brittle and susceptible to breakage as a result of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that leaves bones very fragile, generally due to hormones and Vitamin D and Calcium deficiencies. Women are especially prone to developing this condition after menopause.
While there are plenty of treatment options available for osteoporosis, new studies have found that walking at least eight hours a week can be as beneficial for the prevention of hip fractures as many different medications. (1,2)
2. Walking Improves Blood Circulation and Aids in Detoxification
Many Americans suffer from cold, bluish hands and feet as a result of poor circulation. For the elderly, poor circulation can cause peripheral arterial disease and lower extremity arterial disease. This can cause extreme discomfort in the arms and legs that may require NSAIDS or anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate the pain.
Though it may sound less than appealing for those who are suffering from this ailment, but walking improves your circulation and can help ease the pain of these diseases. (3) Additionally, those who are suffering from atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque in the arteries, may find that walking regularly can help in the prevention and treatment of this disease. (4)
3. Walking Can Help with Weight Management in Overweight and Obese Individuals
Obesity is plagues thousands of children and adults all over the world. In the United States alone, as many as two-thirds of the current population are either overweight or obese. What’s more alarming is that nearly one third of children under the age of eighteen is also overweight or obese, making it a bigger health concern than drug abuse.
There are a variety of different aspects that contribute towards obesity, with a poor diet and lack of exercise being the two main causes, and understandably so. For those who are already overweight, starting an exercise program can be difficult. However, those who incorporate regular walking into their routine may find that they are able to lose weight and burn fat.
Additionally, there are a variety of different conditions that can be caused by being overweight or obese, including diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. With proper weight management, there are chances of lowering your risk of developing these diseases. (5, 6)
4. Walking Does Not Place Much Stress on the Joints
For those who are suffering from arthritis, even simple daily activities can cause pain and discomfort. Arthritis is a condition that occurs when the cartilage between joints degrades, either as a result of an autoimmune disorder or age related degeneration. Those who suffer from arthritis, exercise may be the last thing on their minds. However, walking is not as harsh on the joints as other exercises such as running or plyometrics, and it has a direct carryover into functional movements that are used daily by the individual. (7)
5. Walking Stimulates the Release of Feel Good Hormones that Improve Mood and Disposition
Nearly twenty million adults in the United States suffer from depression, and millions more experience regular stress. Without a doubt, walking is a great way to help improve your mood and fight stress and depression. For some people, adding a regular exercise program, including walking, can be as beneficial as taking an antidepressant. (8) Walking produces endorphins in the brain, which makes one feel good and improves mood. (9)
However, it is important to note that those who are suffering from serious depression and other severe psychiatric disorders should not depend on exercise alone as a way to treat their symptoms and should always talk with their primary doctor or physician before changing your treatment plan. Left undiagnosed, depression can exacerbate other underlying medical conditions and can lead to worsening states of mental health, including thoughts of suicide.
6. Walking Can Help Prevent Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are noticeably enlarged, protruding veins that generally occur in the arms and legs, but can occur in any vein in the body. The swelling of these veins are caused by pregnancy and aging, and while generally only cosmetic, can be painful and itchy. (10)
While there are no lasting health concerns as a result of varicose veins, there are treatment options that can help minimize their appearance. However, for less severe cases, simply investing time and effort into walking regularly may alleviate swelling to some degree. Since walking increases circulation without adding any undue stress on your veins, it is a great exercise for treatment and prevention of varicose veins.
7. Walking Can Help Keep Your Digestive System Healthy
Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions in adults, particularly women, in the United States. Categorized by constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of both, IBS can cause cramping, discomfort, nausea, and a host of other conditions. There are no true cures for IBS, but there are a variety of different treatment options, and walking plays a huge role in management of this syndrome. (11) Stress can play a huge role in IBS attacks, and walking is a great mood reliever and a way to increase endorphins. Furthermore, those who lose weight after being overweight or obese find relief from their IBS symptoms.
8. Walking May Promote Creativity and Improve Cognitive Function
For those who are stuck on a tough problem at work or are looking for a boost of creativity, walking can be a great way to get out of your rut. (12)
Compared to sitting at your desk, going out for a walk can get those creative juices flowing. Also, those who walk regularly seem to be better at problem solving throughout the day as well, not just during or directly after.
9. Walking May Prevent the Development of Certain Types of Cancer
Almost two million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every single year, and cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States for adults. Thankfully, recent studies have shown that those who exercise regularly, be it walking, strength training or functional training, have a much lower risk of developing cancer, particularly breast and prostate cancer. Furthermore, walking can also help prevent the recurrence of colon cancer, as well as help prevent mortality in those who are currently in treatment for the disease. (13)
Of course, cancer is an incredibly complex disease that needs a comprehensive set of treatments. Always consult your doctor before adding to or changing your cancer treatment plan.
How To Start A Walking Routine
As with any exercise routine, it is important to start slowly so as not to shock the body and possibly injure yourself. Warming up and stretching prior to walking is recommended.
For those who are coming from an extremely sedentary lifestyle, walking for 10-30 minutes a day is a good place to start. Do this 2-4 times a week until it becomes easier. Increase the duration or frequency of your walks as you go along.
In the beginning, if you are reasonably healthy, try to walk at a “talking pace”, which means that your heart rate and breathing is elevated but you are able to hold a conversation easily without being out of breath.
Walking is a fantastic way to incorporate exercise into your routine without having to sign up for gym membership. Always consult your doctor prior to undertaking any new fitness regimen so as not to exacerbate any pre-existing conditions.