Walking is the most commonly reported physical activity among US adults. It’s something nearly two-thirds of American adults do every day to some extent. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends we walk a minimum of 150 minutes each week, which is roughly 12 miles per week. Walking can be done in bouts of at least 10 minutes at a time, and the daily goal is to reach about 10,000 steps. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those of us that follow these guidelines may experience the following benefits:
- Improved heart health
Your heart becomes stronger with regular physical activity. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, your heart muscle doesn’t have to work as forcefully to pump oxygen-rich blood through your body. In a 2020 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers stated that people who walk between 4,000 and 8,000 steps a day can reduce their risk of death from heart disease by two-thirds. They also said if you walk more than 12,000 steps per day, you can reduce your risk by nearly 90 percent.
- Lowered risk of some cancers
A 2017 study by the American Cancer Society found that walking decreases the risk for breast cancer and colon cancer in particular.
- Decreased risk of diabetes
Exercise such as walking decreases your risk of diabetes because it lowers blood glucose levels and boosts your body’s sensitivity to insulin, countering insulin resistance. It also helps your muscles absorb blood sugar, preventing it from building up in the bloodstream, which can last for hours or even days.
Lakes Regional Family Medicine physician Tom Kalkhoff, DO added, “Exercise, which includes walking, also increases your chances of maintaining your weight of even losing weight. Since weight is a significant indicator for Type II Diabetes, walking decreases your risk of diabetes.”
- Improved mood
Walking also improves blood flow to your brain, which improves sleep, memory, and the ability to think and learn. Physical activity such as walking also reduces depression and anxiety and may serve as an effective prevention strategy for depression. Walking with a friend or loved one also offers social interactions that can improve your mood.
Dr. Kalkhoff agrees. He walks every day with his wife and said, “At first we walked a short distance and now we walk three to four miles each day together, rain, shine, or snow. It’s something we look forward to doing together every day because it’s an easy way to connect and get out and enjoy our area’s scenery and do something healthy also.”
- Prevention of weight gain
A Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study found that every set of 1,000 steps taken daily over the course of nine years lowered the risk of obesity by 13 percent in middle-aged women. Those with the highest step count were 61 percent less likely to have obesity compared to women who walked the least.
- Stronger muscles and bones
Muscles and bones are both living tissues that get stronger with exercise. Walking is considered a weight-bearing activity that forces you to work against gravity, which helps strengthen your muscles and bones. Along with improved strength, walking can help you gain improved balance and flexibility.
As you start a walking habit, here are some tips to follow:
- Wear comfortable clothes and supportive shoes.
It’s best to wear layered clothing so you can cool off as your body temperature rises on your walk.
- Start by walking a short distance.
If you’re out of shape, walking for 10 to 15 minutes is best to start. Dr. Kalkhoff said, “Don’t worry about speed at first. Just get out there and walk. Work up to walking for 30 minutes or more. If that doesn’t fit into your schedule, walk shorter distances more times each day.”
- Focus on form.
Keep your head lifted, abdominal muscles engaged and shoulders relaxed. Swing your arms naturally.
If you can’t talk or catch your breath while walking, slow down.
- Add variety and challenge.
Mix it up and improve your strength and stamina. For example, walk one block fast, two blocks slow, and repeat several times. Or walk hills or stairs to increase muscle tone and burn more calories.
- Be safe.
It can be easy to not notice things around you when you’re walking, especially if you’re listening to music, talking to a friend, or focused on your phone. Just keep the volume low and watch for traffic. Also be sure to walk on sidewalks instead of streets. If you walk when it’s dark or foggy out, wear light colors or reflective clothing or carry a flashlight so others can see you.