Even though fitness is on the rise, recent studies have shown that about 80 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 do not meet the government-specified daily physical activity.
Moreover, most people believe that walking is not the best option when trying to lose weight and get the benefits of regular exercise. Yet, the truth is that it is the oldest form of physical activity and its benefits are countless!
Walking might not give you the body of your dreams like going to the gym would, but it is a great way to stay active and support overall health and wellbeing. It accelerates metabolism, does not wear down the joints, burns calories prevents ailments and diseases, and is extremely convenient.
According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, regular walking can be as effective for weight loss as going to the gym, and walking briskly and deliberately for at least 30 minutes daily was found to lead to a lower body mass index and a smaller waistline. These results were particularly pronounced in women, people over 50 and those with low incomes.
People have walked to boost their longevity and control their body weight since the beginning of time, but walking has become popular as a weight loss exercise only in the 1990s.
The Centers for Disease Control in partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine first recommended at least half an hour of “brisk walking” most days of the week, and the American Heart Association followed them.
Since then, walking has been confirmed to prevent certain diseases and conditions, like heart disease, hypertension, coronary artery disease, arthritis, obesity, dementia, depression, diabetes, anxiety disorders, PMS symptoms, fatigue, thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, and Alzheimer’s.
If you start walking on a daily basis, you will experience the following benefits
Body Weight Control
When it comes to weight loss, walking is just as effective as more intense workouts, even with the ones that increase the heart rate and cause you to sweat, like running, swimming, cycling, aerobics, working out at the gym, dancing, football/rugby, badminton/tennis, and squash.
Walking at a fast or brisk pace uses a good amount of body energy, but it does not wear you out, meaning that you perceive it as easier, and you are still able to do all your tasks during the rest of the day. Walking will also help you control cortisol levels, which is linked to fat storage and cravings.
Ariel Iasevoli, a personal trainer at Crunch gyms in New York City, maintains that walking daily is the best low-impact way to mobilize fat and improve body composition:
“Daily walking increases metabolism by burning extra calories and by preventing muscle loss, which is particularly important as we get older. The best part? You don’t have to slog it out on a treadmill at the gym to see these benefits. One of my clients reduced her body fat by 2% in just one month by walking home from work each day, which was just under a mile.”
Improved Heart Health
Briskly walking accelerates the heart rate, positively affects blood pressure and boosts the exercise capacity, maximal oxygen consumption and quality of life. Regular walking will help you prevent strokes, heart attacks, and coronary heart disease. Heart disease is the no. 1 killer in the U.S. and it is most often a result of the sedentary lifestyles we lead, high in stress, and low in healthy foods.
Researchers have shown that walking briskly for about 30 minutes daily, five days a week, leads to a 19 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease risk, and the more you increase the speed and intensity, the more protected you will become.
Improved Bone Health
Walking regularly stops the loss of bone mass that occurs due to aging, and lowers the risk of fractures or osteoporosis. Brigham and Women’s Hospital conducted a study which showed that postmenopausal women who walked for 30 minutes daily lowered the risk of hip fractures by 40 percent.
Improved Joint and Muscle health
Walking is a healthy way to prevent chronic diseases, and at the same time, it is the safest form of exercise. Regular walking boosts circulation, fights inflammation, and supports the function of the lymphatic system. It also boosts the circulation of the synovial joint fluid, and thus helps the distribution of oxygen and nutrients to the needed areas. Therefore, it is of great help if you suffer from pain or injuries of the joints.
Additionally, it will also improve the appearance of your legs. According to Luis Navarro, MD, founder, and director of The Vein Treatment Center in New York City:
“The venous system includes a circulatory section known as ‘the second heart,’ which is formed by muscles, veins, and valves located in our calf and foot. the system works to push blood back up to the heart and lungs—and walking strengthens this secondary circulatory system by strengthening and preserving leg muscle, which boosts healthy blood flow. If you already suffer from varicose veins, daily walking can help ease related swelling and restlessness in your legs. Also, if you are genetically predisposed to have varicose and/or spider veins, walking daily can help delay the onset.”
Affordable- It Can Be Done Anywhere, No Equipment Required
All you need in order to start walking daily is time. You do not need any special equipment, and you can do it everywhere.
According to Melina B. Jampolis, MD, author of The Doctor on Demand Diet:
“Walking is the number one exercise I recommend to most of my patients because it is very easy to do, requires nothing but a pair of tennis shoes, and has tremendous mental and physical benefits.”
Depression Relief and Improved Mood
Walking is a natural cure for depression and mood-related issues since it stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain, or the “feel good” hormones.
Walking will also help you prevent memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, and other forms of mental decline.
Dr. Jampolis says:
“Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you’ll experience a decrease in anger and hostility. What’s more, when you make your walks social—you stride with, say, your partner, a neighbor, or a good friend—that interaction helps you feel connected, which boosts mood. Finally, walking outdoors exposes you to natural sunlight, which can help stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—making it a potential antidote for the winter blues. “
Additionally, you can try “earthing”, which is the practice of walking barefoot on grass or sand outdoors and offers incredible health benefits.
So, if you wonder how much walking is needed in order to lose weight, note that most experts recommend walking “briskly” at a speed of at least 3 to 4 miles per hour.
Another common goal is walking about 10,000 steps daily, and you can gradually increase the distance as you move toward a higher goal. Yet it depends on your body type, quality of sleep and diet, stress, habits, etc.
Start with at least 30 minutes of briskly walking almost every day, and gradually increase to 60 and even 90 minutes. You can also incorporate strength training workout into your daily routine, and thus accelerate the weight loss process.
Yet, in order to prevent injuries, make sure you warm-up properly before going on a walk. You can start walking slowly until you feel the legs looser. If you are prone to injuries, it would be of great help to stretch your calves, front of the thigh (quadriceps), back of the thigh (hamstrings) and lower back, holding each stretch for 30 seconds ideally.
Then, you can gradually increase the pace, and walk with the chest upright and the shoulders relaxed. To activate the back and belly muscles, squeeze the core. Before you finish, stretch a bit more, and take it easy for the last 5 minutes to catch your breath.
To make it more interesting, walk with a destination in mind, like, visiting a friend that lived far away from you, walk to work, go to the grocery store, etc.
And do not hesitate- start today! Make walking your routine, and you will soon take own new healthy behaviors. Very soon, your body will drastically change and your health will be optimized!