It’s free, easy on the joints, requires no equipment, and can help you lose weight and boost your life expectancy. Walking is one of the greatest, albeit most underrated forms of physical activity there are. And despite what many people think, it’s not “useless” or “not enough exercise.”
It’s common for people to scoff at walking because it is gentler and less intense than other types of cardiovascular workouts. But research suggests that walking for exercise can be as good (and sometimes better) as other forms of exercise, like running or jogging.
For one, walking produces far fewer injuries than other workouts, so it’s perfect for people with injuries or back, knee, or ankle problems. It also requires significantly less prep and setup time, if any. And while it’s obviously less demanding than vigorous aerobic exercises, and as a result, you burn fewer calories, there’s no shortage of evidence showing that a brisk daily stroll burns enough calories to produce a healthy, sustained weight loss regardless of your current fitness level.
Get to know the health benefits of walking every day and learn how to plan your daily walk to rev up your weight loss and boost your health.
Health benefits of walking every day
You already know that being physically active is good for you. Study after study shows that at least 1 in 12 U.S deaths could be avoided with just half an hour of daily exercise 5 times per week, or about 150 minutes weekly. And when done correctly (we’ll talk more about that in a minute), there’s evidence that staying active can help reduce your risk of high cholesterol, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and so much more.
Cardiovascular exercise — and yes, walking counts as cardio — wards off heart disease by working out your heart and lungs, raising your heart rate, and lowering your blood pressure. A review of studies published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found consistent evidence that walking just five times a week can reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease by nearly 20%.
A daily walk can also protect you against common infections like the flu by bolstering your immune system. In a 2010 study of more than 1,000 adults ages 18 to 85, participants who walked 30 to 45 minutes five or more days a week were less likely to get sick with a respiratory tract infection than their sedentary peers. And those who did get sick reported less severe symptoms and a shorter illness overall.
In older adults and people with osteoporosis, walking has been shown to stave off the loss of bone mass and lower the risk of fractures by strengthening your leg muscles and improving your range of motion. Your circulation improves when you are walking, too, which explains why people who walk every day report far less joint pain and more stamina.
Having good circulation also oxygenates your muscles and helps transport nutrients to your vital organs, including your brain. And when your brain receives enough oxygen through your blood, there’s a noticeable improvement in energy levels, cognitive function, and mood. In fact, the benefits of walking for mental health may be as impressive as its health benefits, with dozens of studies showing how regular walking can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and uplift your mood.
Walking as an exercise: getting started
While the health benefits of walking should be reason enough to put on a pair of shoes and head outside, a daily moderate-intensity walk helps you burn calories and ultimately lose weight, so it’s great for fitness too.
Many people think it’s impossible to lose weight while walking because it’s relatively easy and undemanding. But it’s important to keep in mind that all types of physical activity, regardless of their intensity, demand energy in the form of calories, which means that if you are moving your body, you are automatically burning calories; it’s just the rate by which you burn them that varies depending upon the intensity of the workout.
On average, a person weighing 120 to 140 pounds can burn about 350 calories in one hour of moderate-intensity walking. And the faster and farther you walk, the more calories you’ll burn. To supercharge your daily walk and use up more energy try:
Finding a hill: walking uphill activates your glutes and leg muscles, like the calves and quadriceps. It’s also more physically demanding, so your heart will beat faster and you’ll use up more energy, therefore burning more calories. Depending on how steep you go, you may be able to achieve similar results to jogging in terms of fat loss, without overexerting yourself or adding stress to your joints.
Pushing yourself: while any physical activity is better than no physical activity, your pace needs to be a little more intense than any typical leisurely stroll if you want to make walking part of your workout routine. A brisk walking pace of about 3 to 4.5 miles per hour is intense enough to raise your heart rate and put you within the fat-burning zone. To monitor the intensity of your workout, try singing during your walk; if you can speak comfortably but get out of breath when you break into song, you are at a moderate intensity pace.
Being consistent: like any other workout, walking won’t help you lose body fat if you don’t stick to it. Ideally, you should aim for at least 5 days a week of 30 to 60 minutes of brisk walking, but if you don’t have the time to do it every day, try getting into the habit of walking every day, even if it’s not as an exercise. Sneak minutes of walking every day by parking your car farther away from the store or office, use the stairs instead of the elevator, use your lunch break to take a short walk around the block, and try walking to nearby places you would normally drive to.
A final word
Whether you are looking to shed a few extra pounds or you just want to improve your overall health, walking is an excellent low-impact alternative to more intense forms of aerobic physical activity. You don’t need to own a treadmill or to buy the fanciest shoes; just make sure to get a pair that fits well and find a good podcast or playlist and get out there. Walking every day will not only burn fat, lower your blood pressure and boost your heart health, it will also help you live a longer, happier life.
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