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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 perks, 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 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:
21 Health Benefits of Walking
1. It's Linked to Lower Rates of Depression
Higher levels of physical activity — like walking for an hour — have been linked to lower rates of depression, according to research published in the January 2019 issue of JAMA Psychiatry.
Going outside for a walk can amplify the mood-boosting benefits, too. In a December 2018 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, people who walked in a natural environment had decreased depression, anxiety, tension and anger.
2. It Can Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety
If you're anxious or overwhelmed, a walk can be a profound mood booster. This is thanks in part to changes in key hormones.
"Brisk walking decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while testosterone levels go up — this helps you gain strength, boosts confidence and improves libido," says R. Kannan Mutharasan, MD, co-program director of sports cardiology at the Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute.
"What's more, walking with a friend or loved one releases the warm and fuzzy hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel happy and connected."
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.
When combined with a bit of moving meditation, walking can help also ease anxiety, according to a July 2018 study from Health Promotion Perspectives.
3. It's 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. It Helps Keep Your Joints Healthy and Pain-Free
Walking is a low-impact exercise, meaning it's easier on your joints (especially your knees) than a high-impact activity like running. Just one hour a week of moderate to vigorous exercise can help increase the likelihood of living disability-free over four years in older adults, according to a May 2019 study from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
And walking backward 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).
Additionally, "walking strengthens the muscles, tendons and ligaments around your hip, knee and ankle joints," Dr. Mutharasen says. "When your muscles are better equipped to support your weight, this helps take a load off the joints." By reducing the pressure on your joints, you're less prone to injury and discomfort.
Walking also improves the circulation of synovial fluid, which lubricates your joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It also helps rebuild cartilage in the joints.
And by making walking a regular habit, it can also help you shed pounds, which can have a positive impact on your joints.
"Even modest weight loss can make a tremendous difference in the health of your knees and hips," Dr. Mutharasen says. "Taking just a few pounds off your overall body weight may result in tens or even hundreds of pounds off your joints."
5. It May Lower the Risk of Hip Fractures
An April 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 people found that 30 minutes of walking each day reduced their risk of hip fractures by 40 percent.
6. It 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.
7. It's Linked to Lower Rates of Cardiovascular Disease
The American Heart Association advocates for walking as part of a strategy for reducing the risk of heart disease. Case in point: An August 2017 study from the European Heart Journal found that brisk walkers were less likely to die from heart disease than slower walkers.
That's because walking increases your heart rate, which improves your heart's ability to pump blood. If you walk regularly, your heart will become more efficient with pumping blood over time, so your resting heart rate will become slower, says Megan Augustyn, a physical therapist at Rush University.
"Your heart is a muscle, so just like any other muscle, exercising it makes it stronger," Dr. Muthrasen says.
8. It Improves Your Blood Circulation
Because walking gets your heart rate up, it boosts blood flow to your tissues, muscles and organs, Dr. Muthrasen says. As a result, your entire system functions more optimally.
Walking actually increases your capacity for blood flow. Because your muscles require more blood flow during physical activity, your body in turn produces new capillaries to accommodate the surge.
"Your blood vessels are not static like the pipes in your house," Dr. Mutharasen says. "They respond to the uptick in blood flow during exercise by growing new and better blood vessels."
9. It's 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.
10. It's Linked to Lower Blood Pressure
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.
11. It 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. It Helps Fight Fatigue and Boost Energy
Replace your morning java with an a.m. stroll: A small May 2017 study in Physiology & Behavior found that walking at a low-to-moderate intensity for just 10 minutes was more energizing than a low dose of caffeine in people who were sleep-deprived.
Sure, exercise might be the last thing you want to do when you're already dragging. But in the same study in Health Promotion Perspectives, taking a single brisk walk actually decreased fatigue and lethargy.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, researchers hypothesize that moving at a rapid pace and feeling your heart rate quicken causes people to perceive themselves as being less drowsy.
13. It Increases Your Exercise Capacity
If you're new to exercise, an intense walk might lead to next-day soreness. But hear this: When you get your heart pumping again, you'll be able to do more and you'll feel less achy.
That's because each time you exercise, your blood develops better "buffer capacity." "Buffers are chemicals that help prevent big swings in acid and base levels in the body," Dr. Mutharasen says.
If your blood isn't delivering enough oxygen to your muscles during exercise, lactic acid can build up — the substance that makes you "feel the burn" when you work out.
"Exercise teaches your body to build up buffer levels of bicarbonate in the blood, which keeps your lactic acid levels in check so that you're less likely to feel a burn," Dr. Mutharasen says. "By improving your body's ability to deal with lactic acid, you can handle more exercise the next time."
14. It's 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.
15. It's Linked to Lower Rates and Slower Progression of Alzheimer's
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.
16. It Can Help Ease Lower Back Pain
Walking is your back's BFF. A 2017 review published in Disability and Rehabilitation concluded that walking can help improve pain and quality of life in people living with chronic lower back pain.
"Taking a 30-minute walk increases range of motion in the lower back and legs and boosts blood flow to the spine," Augustyn says. "This improves your posture, strengthens the muscles between your vertebrae and your abdominal muscles, all of which improves lower back pain."
Plus, since it's low impact, it's less likely to aggravate your back than more intense forms of exercise.
17. It's Associated With Better Brain Health
You can walk away your brain fog. "The increase in blood flow while you walk helps your brain function better so you think more clearly," Dr. Mutharasen says. It enhances nutrients and blood flow to brain which improves cognition and focus.
So instead of taking a coffee break to be more productive, consider a walking break. A July 2020 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that a brisk, 30-minute jaunt improved both working memory and executive function (including planning, multi-tasking, focus, etc.) in older adults.
A September 2019 study in Scientific Reports found that people with a higher walking endurance also had better cognitive performance.
18. It May Help Improve Cholesterol Levels
People who walk regularly have healthier cholesterol levels, according to a 2013 study in Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
19. It 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.
"There is also a modest boost in metabolism for a few hours after your walk," Dr. Mutharasen says. "It's not much, but over time it can make a big difference."
A September 2014 study in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry found that after 12 weeks of walking, people with obesity lost weight and reduced belly fat and overall body fat.
20. It Can Help You Sleep Better
You can walk your way to a better zzz's. An October 2019 study in Sleep Health suggests that folks who took a brisk walk during the day had higher-quality sleep that night.
Additionally, an October 2016 study in BMJ Open concluded that walkers fell asleep quicker, had fewer nighttime awakenings and clocked more hours of shuteye.
21. It Aids Digestion
Get moving if you want to keep things moving. "Walking stimulates your gastrointestinal tract," Dr. Mutharasen says. "It aids the process of peristalsis, which is how food moves from your mouth and through your GI system until it's eliminated."
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.
Additional reporting by Molly Triffin