Technically, you started walking way back when you were about a year old. And unless you have some type of disability or condition that prevents you from walking, you’re still doing it—as you have, practically every day of your life.
Its Easy. You already know how to do it. Just put one foot in front of the other. You can do it anywhere. Step out of your front door. Take a walk from your workplace. You can walk to places that you frequent, such as the grocery store, a shopping center, a place of worship. You don’t need any special equipment. If you’re walking for exercise, it’s the best to have a comfortable pair of shoes, preferably sneakers. But that’s it! While there are some items of clothing and gear that can make walking more enjoyable they are not essential. It’s gentle on your knees—and the rest of your body. Unlike running, you keep one foot on the ground at all times when you’re walking, making it a low-impact, joint-friendly exercise.
It’s healthy. More than 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates said, “Walking is a man’s best medicine.” Today, there’s a lot of research to back up his statement. It protects your heart. Harvard University researchers followed more than 70,000 women, age group 40 to 65, for eight years, and found that walkers were less likely to die from heart disease. Those who logged walking for three or more hours a week (or 25 minutes a day) reduced their risk of dying due to heart disease, by 35%. Even those who were sedentary at the beginning of the study lowered their risk when they started walking during the study. So it’s never too late! It helps to stay off diabetes. Inactivity promotes type 2 diabetes. Working your muscles more often and making them work harder, improves their ability to use insulin and absorb blood sugar (glucose). This puts less stress on your insulin-making cells. Walking briskly for a half-= an hour every day reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30%. For those already at risk, doing shorter bursts of walking throughout the day may be even more effective. One study found that a 15-minute walk immediately after every meal provided better blood sugar regulation than a single daily 45 minute morning walk. If you already have diabetes, increasing activity throughout the day by 4,000 steps or more can improve levels of HbA1c. It helps lower blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a primary risk factor for heart disease and strokes, but walking is an effective way to lower blood pressure, according to a review of 27 studies. It reduces falls and fractures. When you were a kid, a broken bone was an opportunity for all your friends to sign your cast, but as you age, falling and breaking a bone can be a serious problem. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both nonfatal and fatal injuries. One out of five people who suffer a hip fracture from a fall dies within a year. While the statistics are frightening, they are not a reason to hunker down on the sofa to avoid a fall. Staying active keeps your muscles strong and flexible so you’ll be less likely to take a spill. And weight-bearing activities like walking will keep your bones stronger so you’ll be less likely to break one if you do fall. It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes. Harvard University researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in more than 12,000 men and women to determine how much these genes contribute to body weight. Then they examined those people’s exercise habits and found that in men and women who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the genetic effect was cut in half. It reduces the risk of developing cancer. In 2008, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans noted that exercise like brisk walking lowered risk for breast cancer and colon cancer. Now there’s enough solid evidence to demonstrate that exercise can also lower the risk of six other types of cancer— bladder, endometrial, esophageal, kidney, lung, and stomach. And for people who already have cancer, a study from England showed that walking can help reduce the side effects of treatment, improve quality of life, and possibly extend life. It helps tame a sweet tooth. If you’re a chocoholic who’s trying to cut back, start walking! A 15-minute walk has been shown to curb cravings for chocolate, according to a study from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. It improves sleep. A 45-minute morning walk or racking up 10,000 steps throughout the day have both been found to help you fall asleep faster, according to two separate studies. It sharpens your thinking. The hippocampus—a section of the brain that’s crucial to memory—typically shrinks by 1% to 2% a year in older adults. In one study, researchers found that walking 10 kms a week for a year not only offset the shrinkage, it actually increased hip-pocampal volume by 2%. It boosts your mood. Anyone who’s taken a walk when feeling blue, knows that it’s a great, instant mood booster and studies support this. But even for more serious depression, walking is a viable remedy. In fact, it can be just as effective as drugs, according to a 16-week study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
It’s fun. To some people, exercise feels like drudgery. With walking, however, you can pamper yourself in multiple ways while still getting a workout. You can do it with others. Invite family, friends, or co-workers to join you for a walk. It’s a great way to catch up or get to know someone better. And if you need to have a tough conversation with someone, try doing it while walking. Striding side by side can make discussions easier because you’re more relaxed than when you’re sitting face to face. You can get “me” time. Heading out by yourself can be a good way to escape the demands and expectations that occupy much of your time. As you stroll, you can clear your head, relax, and reflect. It can be valuable, quiet “me” time, allowing you to return refreshed. I listen to all my podcast while walking. You can enjoy a dose of nature. Studies show that spending time in parks or near water can boost your mood. Walking is a great way to get out in nature. You can be more creative. Stanford University researchers found that people generated twice as many creative responses to problems when walking than sitting. And the creative juices continued to flow even when they sat down after their walk—another good reason to take a walking break during the workday.