America is on a fitness kick. Gyms are overcrowded, 5K races and marathons are selling out in record time, and the fitness app market is expected to reach 30 billion by the end of the decade. Despite such high levels of health awareness, the one aerobic exercise that is rarely given credit is walking.
The reality is that walking provides many of the same mental and physical health benefits as other aerobic exercise, but with less exertion and strain on the body.
Walking is considered an important form of exercise for many reasons, but its main benefit is that it is good for the heart. Its cardiovascular benefits include better circulation, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and improved cardiac output – the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body.
Is walking good for you?
Two recent studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), also show that walking between 2,000 and 10,000 steps each day reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer, and decreases the likelihood of premature death from at least 10%.
The added beauty of these benefits is that they are not hard to find. “Walking is a low-impact exercise that’s gentle on the joints, making it a great option for people with knee, ankle, or hip issues,” says Austin “Ozzie” Gontang, PhD, licensed psychotherapist and director of the San Diego Marathon Clinic. Gontang adds that because walking doesn’t require any special equipment, gym memberships, or training, it’s “accessible to anyone and easy to incorporate into your daily routine.”
What are the other benefits of walking?
Beyond the increased heart rate and cardiovascular benefits of walking, the practice has also been shown to boost metabolism, improve cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of stroke, strengthen bones and increase the energy level. “Because walking helps strengthen lower body muscles, it may also improve arthritis pain in the knee and hip,” says Michael Fredericson, MD, director of the University’s Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. from Stanford.
JAMA research also shows that walking around 10,000 steps a day reduces the risk of dementia by 50%. “Walking may also reduce the risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes,” Gontang adds.
In addition to these physical benefits, “walking has also been shown to improve cognition, sleep, and mental health, including mood and self-esteem,” says physical medicine specialist Shelby Johnson, MD. and rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic, Rochester.
Is walking sporty enough?
“While walking doesn’t give you as much aerobic exercise as running, it has been shown to raise your heart rate enough to be considered meaningful exercise,” Fredericson says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends participating in “moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking for 150 minutes each week” – the equivalent of 30 minutes each weekday.
And if a more demanding workout is desired, “walking can always be made more challenging by adding higher-intensity walking intervals or including hills or inclines,” Johnson suggests.
Can walking help you lose weight?
There’s also good news for walkers hoping to shed a few pounds. “Because walking increases your heart rate and helps you work multiple muscle groups at once, you’ll absolutely burn calories and lose weight if you do it often,” says Fredericson. “And remember, even if you’re not sweating, you’re still burning calories,” he adds. Although the number of calories burned depends on factors such as terrain, distance and speed, “a brisk walk can burn up to 300 calories per hour,” says Gontang.
Johnson agrees that walking helps you get in better shape, but adds that “weight loss is usually best achieved with an overall healthy lifestyle.” That means getting enough physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet “and also includes things like getting enough sleep,” she says.
“It’s important to note that everyone’s fitness level and goals are different,” Gontang adds. “Consult a physician or certified fitness professional to determine a safe and effective exercise or diet program for you.”
Want to know more about walking, fitness? Read next:
Are you taking your daily steps? Walking could save your life.
It started millions of years ago:When was walking invented?
Walking can be a lifesaver:But many need to pick up the pace
Tech Talk Podcast:Apps to help you maintain your fitness routine