The Incredible Health Benefits of Walking
Pilates, yoga, boxing – they’re all awesome at the right time and place, but is there something out there that offers a myriad of benefits, without the high studio fee? Something that can boost the mind, body, and spirit? You bet there is. Walking. We do it all the time. To get from point A to point B and back again. In a fitness-crazed society could physical activity be a lot simpler than we make it out to be? Not only is walking totally free (unless you plan on investing in fancy walking shoes), it’s an incredible way to start getting in shape, support your mental health, and soak up that good old vitamin D. Let’s take a look at what makes walking so awesome and the best way to optimize your walking routine.
Physical Benefits of Walking
Move over weights and spin class, there’s a (not so) new kid in town in the world of physical fitness. While walking has been around since before the beginning of human civilization, it seems like it’s just starting to get the credit it deserves in the world of physical activity. Walking is an incredible way to boost your physical health without putting extra stress on your joints as other workouts can do. Going for a stroll can help regulate weight and blood pressure, decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, and manage cholesterol. The physical benefits don’t stop there. Walking can also increase bone health, decrease muscular pain and stiffness, and help manage diabetes.
You don’t have to do only high-intensity exercise in order to ‘get in shape. Regular walking can help reduce body fat and increase muscular strength and endurance. If you’re constantly feeling tired, walking may be able to help. A study from The University of Georgia found that twenty minutes of low-intensity exercise like walking dramatically decreases fatigue. Participants reported a 65% reduction in fatigue in just one session.
Mental Benefits of Walking
Walking doesn’t just help keep your physical health in check, it’s also incredible for your mental health. Let’s look at the brain-boosting benefits of walking. Have you ever gone for a walk and immediately felt more clear-headed and happy? That’s because walking increases endorphins. These happy hormones boost mental health and help decrease sensitivity to stress and pain. Walking is one of the quickest fixes for a case of the blues, as well as preventing long term mental health issues. Researchers at Kings College London found that exercising for just twenty minutes per day can decrease the risk of depression by a third.
Moving your feet doesn’t just help with your emotional health, it can also help increase your cognition and brainpower. Researchers found that a single session of moderate-intensity exercise, like walking, increases BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF is essential for neuron development and survival, synaptic plasticity, and cognitive function. It can even help support the cognitive help of people who have had a stroke.
If you’re feeling stuck on a project, try going for a stroll. Just twenty minutes of walking can increase cerebral blood flow, aka blood flow in your brain. This in turn helps the brain to bring nutrients to your cells and remove toxins. Walking can even increase a person’s creative output by an average of 60%. Looking to grow your brain? An NPR report discovered that a brief walk can increase the size of your hippocampus, the part of your brain which is responsible for forming and storing memories.
Now Walk it Out
It can be easy to want to put fitness-oriented goals around your walking routine. If that works for you, great, but don’t stress yourself out about it! This is supposed to be a way to add a fun and healthy activity into your life, not a source of pressure. You can make it even more fun by pumping up the jams and listening to music, diving into a riveting podcast, catching up with a loved one, or even taking meetings while walking! Not to mention, walking is an incredible way you can connect with nature, or just get some fresh air. Try setting small, incremental goals for yourself, and increasing them every week or two. This could mean aiming to walk for twenty minutes a day, and adding ten minutes every week until you hit a solid goal.
Experts recommend aiming to walk for about five miles or eight kilometers per day. You can also try small challenges to take it up a notch by increasing your pace, adding in hills and inclines, or even using little weights!
It’s ok if you don’t make your goal every day, even a little is better than nothing! You’ll be amazed at how much can change from this simple, yet often overlooked activity. Now slip on those sneakers and get out there!
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.