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Intense workouts like running and HIIT often steal the spotlight when people think about forms of exercise that come with a lot of physical and mental health benefits. But walking has tons of benefits, too.
From lowering your body fat percentage to toning your abs, easing lower back pain and reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke, lacing up for a jaunt around the block does wonders for your body.
Walking is also good for your mind, helping improve your mood, boost endorphins, reduce fatigue and lower your stress hormones. What's more, it's absolutely free and and you don't need a lot of time: Only 15 to 40 minutes a day five days a week can help improve your health.
To help remind you of all the amazing reasons you should be walking, the LIVESTRONG.com team created this pinnable infographic:
The Health Benefits of Walking
Higher levels of physical activity — like walking for an hour — has been linked to lower rates of depression, according to research published in the January 2019 issue of JAMA Psychiatry.
2. Can Help Reduce Stress
Take your walking into the great outdoors and you'll decrease stress levels, both physically and psychologically. Participants in a May 2018 study in Behavioral Sciences experienced greater reductions in levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol and in their own rankings of their emotional stress after walking in nature than after walking in a more urban environment.
3. Associated With Longer Life Expectancy
Staying physically active has been tied to a longer life, according to a June 2019 study from The BMJ. And a July 2020 study from The Lancet Global Health concluded that those who exercised regularly had a lower risk of premature death.
Exactly how much walking? Well, a July 2020 study from The BMJ found that those who followed the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans "show greatly reduced risk of all cause and cause specific mortality." That means doing at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of a moderate-intensity aerobic activity like walking.
If you can, take your pace up a notch! Brisk walkers in particular have been linked to increased life expectancy, according to a June 2019 study from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
4. Helps Keep Your Knees Healthy and Pain-Free
Walking is low-impact, meaning it's easier on your joints (especially your knees) than a high-impact activity like running. Just one hour a week can help reduce the liklihood of experiencing knee problems, according to a May 2019 study from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
And walking backwards can help reduce knee pain once it starts, according to an April 2019 study from BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. Just make sure you have a good pair of supportive walking shoes (see below for more).
5. May Lower the Risk of Hip Fractures
A 2014 study from the American Journal of Public Health states, "Walking is a relatively safe and easy activity for hip fracture prevention." And an older study (2002) from Brigham and Women's Hospital of post-menopausal women found that 30 minutes of walking each day reduced their risk of hip fractures by 40 percent.
6. Might Lower the Risk and Severity of a Stroke
The more you walk, the lower your risk of stroke, according to Harvard Health Publishing. And frequent walking has also been linked to less severe strokes if they do occur, according to an October 2018 study from Neurology.
The American Heart Association advocates for walking as part of a strategy for reducing the risk of heart disease. And an August 2017 study from the European Heart Journal found that brisk walkers were less likely to die from heart disease than slower walkers.
8. Associated With Fewer and Less Severe Colds
A May 2017 study from PLoS One found that those who were less active reported more sick days at work. Plus, Harvard Health Publishing reports that those who are more active are sick for a shorter amount of time and with less severe symptoms.
People who took about 12,000 steps a day over the course of six months improved both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure, according to a June 2013 study from the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine.
10. Associated With Lower Levels of Anxiety
When combined with a bit of moving meditation, walking can help boost your mental health and ease anxiety, according to a July 2018 study from Health Promotion Perspectives.
11. Helps Soothe Anger
According to that same Health Promotion Perspectives study mentioned above, participants who took that 10-minute walk also reported feeling less angry afterward.
12. Helps Fight Fatigue and Boost Energy
Getting up from your desk every 30 minutes for an easy walk can keep your energy up throughout the day, according to a February 2016 study in BMJ Open.
13. Associated With Reduced Risk of Glaucoma
"People who are physically active appear to have a 73 percent lower risk of developing glaucoma," according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology and research presented at their 2017 annual meeting.
Increased physical activity has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's by a 2017 study from The Lancet. It's also been linked to stabilizing cognitive functioning in those already with Alzheimer's disease, according to a 2014 study from the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics.
15. Can Help Ease Lower Back Pain
A 2017 review published in Disability and Rehabilitation concluded that walking is "valuable in the treatment of individuals with chronic lower back pain."
16. Associated With Better Brain Health
A September 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that people with a higher walking endurance also had better cognitive performance.
17. May Help Improve Cholesterol Levels
People who walk regularly have healthier cholesterol levels, according to a 2013 study in Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
18. Can Help With Weight Management
Walking can burn between 85 and 135 calories per mile, depending on your weight, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Along with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, this can help you either maintain or lose weight.
19. Can Help You Sleep Better
Getting into a good walking routine can help improve sleep duration and quality, according to a 2016 study in BMJ Open.
Tips to Walk More Throughout Your Day
- At work, go outside during your lunch break and walk for 15 to 40 minutes. Or ask your co-workers to take walking meetings.
- At home, make walking your catch-up time with your family. Walk your dog every night also counts. Both you and Fido need the exercise!
- Tell yourself to walk just a bit more. Each extra 10 minutes you walk at a decent pace adds about 1,000 steps or more.
- Get yourself a pedometer or download a free mobile app such as Every Body Walk!, RunKeeper, Strava or MapMyWalk.
What Do I Need to Start Walking?
It's a great idea to invest in a pair of supportive shoes designed primarily for walking. Cross-training and running shoes are not designed for walking.
As The Walking Site points out, "A walker's foot hits heel first and then rolls gradually from heel-to-toe. So, you will need a flexible sole and more bend in the toe than a runner. You should be able to twist and bend the toe area."
And that's it! Lace up your shoes and get walking.
- JAMA Psychiatry: Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among Adults
- Behavioral Sciences: Levels of Nature and Stress Response
- The BMJ: Physical activity trajectories and mortality: population based cohort study
- The Lancet Global Health: Use of the prevented fraction for the population to determine deaths averted by existing prevalence of physical activity: a descriptive study
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Comparative Relevance of Physical Fitness and Adiposity on Life Expectancy
- American Journal of Preventative Medicine: One Hour a Week: Moving to Prevent Disability in Adults With Lower Extremity Joint Symptoms
- BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders: Effect of 6-week retro or forward walking program on pain, functional disability, quadriceps muscle strength, and performance in individuals with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial (retro-walking trial)
- American Journal of Public Health: Physical Activity and Inactivity and Risk of Hip Fractures in Men
- JAMA: Walking and Leisure-Time Activity and Risk of Hip Fracture in Postmenopausal Women
- Harvard Health Publishing: Walk more to slash your stroke risk
- Neurology: Prestroke physical activity could influence acute stroke severity (part of PAPSIGOT)
- American Heart Association: Walking
- European Heart Journal: Association of walking pace and handgrip strength with all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: a UK Biobank observational study
- PLoS One: Physical activity and unplanned illness-related work absenteeism: Data from an employee wellness program
- Harvard Health Publishing: 5 surprising benefits of walking
- Asian Journal of Sports Medicine: Effects of a 6-Month Walking Study on Blood Pressure and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in U.S. and Swedish Adults: ASUKI Step Study
- Health Promotion Perspectives: Experimental Effects of Brief, Single Bouts of Walking and Meditation on Mood Profile in Young Adults
- BMJ Open: Acute effects of breaking up prolonged sitting on fatigue and cognition: a pilot study
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: Another Reason to Exercise: Protecting Your Sight
- The Lancet: Dementia prevention, intervention, and care
- Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics: Walking stabilizes cognitive functioning in Alzheimer's disease (AD) across one year
- Disability and Rehabilitation: The Effectiveness of Walking Versus Exercise on Pain and Function in Chronic Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials
- Scientific Reports: White matter microstructure mediates the association between physical fitness and cognition in healthy, young adults
- Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology: Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction
- Harvard Health Publishing: Walking: Your steps to health
- BMJ Open: Does subjective sleep quality improve by a walking intervention? A real-world study in a Japanese workplace
- The Walking Site: Selecting Walking Shoes
- The BMJ: Recommended physical activity and all cause and cause specific mortality in US adults: prospective cohort study
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans