Walking is one of the best activities you can do to improve your overall health. It’s simple to do, most people can do it, you don’t need any special or expensive equipment, and you can do it anywhere at any time.
Evidence supporting the long list of health benefits of walking continues to pile up. On an individual level, this simple activity can have profoundly positive impacts on our physical and mental health. On a community level, walking has the power to reduce the incidence of chronic disease and slow rising healthcare costs.
The health benefits of walking
When it comes to exercise, walking has one of the best returns on investment, with research suggesting that each hour of brisk walking (meaning you’re walking at a pace where you can talk, but can’t sing) may add two hours to your life expectancy. And the best part is, the health benefits of walking all complement each other to improve your overall health.
Walking burns calories.
While you can burn more calories in a shorter amount of time with higher intensity exercises, walking still burns a decent amount, but without any of the harmful impact and stress those other activities can put on your body. Walking is an easy, low-impact way to burn calories even if you’re not feeling well or have some physical restrictions or limitations. The number of calories you can burn by walking varies by age, height, weight, intensity, and how long you’re walking. This free online calculator can help you figure out how many calories you can burn by walking.
Walking builds a strong heart.
Research has shown that walking at least 20-30 minutes every day can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by 35%. And you don’t need to do this all at once—two to three 10-minute walks work just as well. But don’t forget, when it comes to walking, more is better. A study in JAMA found that those who walked 8,000 steps daily were about half as likely to die—especially from heart disease—as those who only walked 4,000 steps each day. Walking also helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which can further reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Walking improves bone health.
As we age, our body’s ability to replace lost bone decreases. After about age 50, we start to lose bone faster than we can build it. Walking at least one mile per day can help slow the rate of bone loss and boost bone density. Bonus points if you do anything to help add more load when you walk, like hiking with a pack, going up and down hills and stairs, etc. Adding this extra load provides additional stimulus which encourages the bones to ramp up the production of bone tissue.
Walking promotes balance and coordination.
Due to sensory and cognitive changes that can happen as we age, people over 65 have a higher risk of accidental falls, with about a third experiencing at least one a year. The most common reasons are poor postural stability, misplaced steps, and trips. Regular walking throughout adulthood can help reduce this risk as you get older. Including walking exercises like walking on your heels and then on your toes, heel-to-toe walking, sidestepping, and walking backward can all be effective in improving and maintaining balance and coordination. Just remember – it’s important to have proper instruction and supervision if trying these exercises to avoid potential injuries!
Walking builds lung capacity.
Brisk walking can get your breath rate up and help your lungs work more efficiently. This gets more oxygen into your bloodstream and more carbon dioxide out, which can help keep your cells and tissues functioning properly. Remember, if air pollution levels are up in your area, don’t do your walking outside. When it comes to lung health, you’re better off walking inside on those days. Want to know what the air quality is in your area? Check out the free IQAir app.
Walking lowers blood sugar.
Walking for as little as 2 to 5 minutes after each meal has been shown to significantly lower postprandial spike (the temporary spike in blood sugar after a meal). Studies have also shown that walking for 15 minutes after each meal—especially after dinner—is effective at improving blood sugar levels over a 24-hour period. To reap the benefits, make sure to get these short walks in within 60 minutes after eating. This is one of our favorite health benefits of walking because it can have positive effects long after your walk has ended.
Walking eases joint pain.
Cartilage doesn’t have direct blood flow and gets nutrients from surrounding joint fluid. Compression forces from movement help squeeze and move that fluid around to supply the cartilage with nutrients while removing waste products. When we’re inactive and don’t move regularly, that can restrict this process. Regular, low-impact activities like walking help cartilage get the nutrients it needs to stay supple and flexible so it can effectively cushion and protect your joints while lubricating and increasing their range of motion.
Walking boosts your immune system.
Strengthening your immune system is one of the most powerful health benefits of walking. Compared to sitting, walking for 30 minutes can significantly boost the number of natural killer cells and other white blood cells, helping to reduce how often you get sick. Bonus points here if you walk in the woods. Studies have shown that regular walks in nature can provide a significant boost to natural killer cell activity. The best part is that this increase can last for up to a week before slowly declining back to normal over the next few weeks.
Walking energizes you.
The next time you’re feeling tired, don’t just sit or reach for a cup of coffee. Go for a walk! Walking increases blood flow, pumping more oxygen and nutrients throughout your body and raising levels of hormones that can ratchet up energy levels. Walking is so effective at improving energy levels that one study found that a brief, 10-minute session of walking stairs increased energy levels more than 50mg of caffeine.
Walking brightens your mental health and mood.
Walking releases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals that help us relax, lower stress levels, and alleviate negative feelings like depression and anxiety. Like with the immune system, you may reap even more benefits by walking outside. Walking outdoors has been associated with improvements in cognition, mood, and emotional well-being.
Walking boosts your creativity.
As we’ve mentioned, walking gets your blood pumping, the oxygen flowing, and jacks up the release of endorphins. While all of these contribute to the various health benefits of walking, they also help boost your creativity. A 2014 study by researchers at Stanford found that walking—on a treadmill in a boring room or walking outdoors—produced twice as many creative responses as someone just sitting down. So the next time you’re stuck thinking of ideas or need to brainstorm, do it while walking!
Walking helps you live longer.
Not only can walking daily add years to your life, but it could also add life to your years. Daily walking has been associated with longevity and reducing your risk of having to deal with debilitating diseases like dementia, stroke, and heart disease as you age. According to a meta-analysis published in 2022, the sweet spot to reduce the risk of premature death is in the range of 6,000 to 8,000 daily steps for folks over 60 and 8,000 to 10,000 steps for those younger than 60.
The health benefits of walking make it the perfect activity to add to your daily routine if you want to optimize your health, boost your longevity, and improve your life. So the next time you go to the store, park a little further away. Set an alarm to remind you to get up and walk every hour or so during the day. Take the stairs. Walk when you’re on the phone. Pick up an inexpensive pedometer to track your daily steps. Whatever you do, challenge yourself to discover new ways to incorporate more walking into your day. Your body, and your brain, will thank you!