Walking is good for you.
It’s the sort of common knowledge your mother, doctor, coworkers, and well-meaning friends like to remind you of on a regular basis. No matter what ails you, they say, a nice walk can fix it. There was even a Greek school of philosophy based on the legends of how much Aristotle enjoyed walking. But what exactly does walking do for you? How is it different from any other exercise? Wouldn’t jogging or running burn more calories?
What makes walking so wonderful?
Well, for starters, not everyone can endure vigorous cardio. The elderly are a good example, and people on their way to work are another. Lifting weights or jogging during your morning commute might seem strange, but walking an extra block, taking the farthest parking space, or simply using your breaks to circle the building once or twice is not only perfectly natural, it’s also incredibly rewarding.
Although walking has many benefits, we’ve compiled a short list of the top five ways regular walking can reward you.
Top Five Benefits of Regular Walking
1. Physical health
This is the most obvious category, primarily because it’s had the most press coverage, but walking gives you more than great legs and the basic benefits of regular exercise. Walking boosts your body’s function in many ways, including reducing several primary organs’ disease risk factors and improving several key bodily systems. Walking can minimize the risk of heart disease, improve digestion, and even add more than three years to your life. It also lowers your risk for diabetes and helps manage cholesterol. And, remember, all of those points are just part of the first item on our list.
Physical Health Summary:
- Minimizes risk of heart disease
- Improves digestion
- Increases longevity
- Lowers risk of diabetes
- Helps manage cholesterol
2. Strength and balance
Believe it or not, walking doesn’t just build muscle – it actually helps strengthen your bones, too. Walking lowers the risk of fractures and is a popular treatment for osteoporosis. One of the first treatments recommended for those who suffer from arthritis is regular walking. Not only does it strengthen weakened joints, but walking also improves flexibility. Not only your bones benefit, though. Walking strengthens your lower body and core, which are both key in maintaining good balance. This, in turn, means fewer falls for the elderly.
Strength and Balance Summary:
- Builds lower body muscles
- Builds core muscles
- Improves balance
- Strengthens bones
- Lowers risk of fractures
- Helps treat osteoporosis and arthritis
3. Immune system
Although less work has been done in this field, existing studies and theories suggest exercise could boost your immune system in a number of ways. First, walking could help flush bacteria and other potentially harmful microbes out of your lungs. When you exercise, your body temperature rises, and it has been suggested that this heat prevents bacteria from multiplying in the same way a fever fights infection. The minor increase in your heart rate also helps white blood cells and antibodies move through your system more quickly, potentially catching more illnesses before they have a chance to do any harm.
Immune System Summary:
- Could flush bacteria from your respiratory system
- Increases body heat that could combat infection
- Moves white blood cells and antibodies more quickly through system
4. Mental health
Many people have heard that physical activity releases endorphins, and that is certainly true, but it is not the only way walking can help combat mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Walking promotes neural growth while reducing inflammation. Developing a walking habit can also build new activity patterns. All of these little benefits chip away at the root of mental illness. Outdoor walks have the added benefit of combating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Your body actually needs sunlight to function well, and the chemicals exposure releases help nearly all forms of mental illness. Walking is a relatively gentle exercise, which makes it perfect for individuals of all ages. The benefits continue to develop over time, and studies have shown that walking can reduce the risk of memory loss in older walkers and minimize the effects of active memory loss in others.
Mental Health Summary:
- Releases endorphins
- Encourages neural growth
- Reduces inflammation
- Outdoor walks combat SAD
- Reduces risk of memory loss
- Slows existing memory loss
5. Brain Power
Have you been feeling stumped lately? Are you out of ideas? Do you desperately need an original thesis for that essay you’re working on? Take a walk! Not only does walking increase your creativity while you’re in motion, but a recent study claims that creative thinking continues for a while after your walk has ended. Although it’s hard to measure creativity, researches are generally happy to support the age old idea of walking sparking great ideas. In this day and age of computers, though, how practical is walking for inspiration? Well, Steve Jobs famously conducted walking meetings to develop his company, and things turned out awfully well for him.
Brain Power Summary:
- Can increase creative thinking by 60%
- Proven habit of highly successful and creative people
- Creativity is increased for a short period after walking as well
It’s true: walking alone won’t give you a Hollywood-style beach body, but it can take off a surprising amount of weight, especially for those who do not already exercise. Of course, the other benefits of this simple practice are amazing on their own. There aren’t many exercises that provide as many benefits as walking does with such negligible side effects. While jogging, running, and lifting can strain joints, walking improves joints’ strength and flexibility.
Although a lot goes into living a healthy life, walking is a great place to start. The cognitive benefits alone could help you make better decisions in other areas of your life. And don’t forget the help walking will deliver to your muscles, bones, joints, organs, and immune system as you work up to making any other lifestyle changes. No matter what path you take, walking can get you started with the right foot forward and help ensure that the path you walk is a long one.
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