Going for a walk is a low-impact form of exercise that can benefit almost anyone. Walking consistently can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Research has also shown that a faster walking gait is tied to living longer.
Beyond burning calories and lowering your blood pressure, walking is a simple and productive way to get out of the house, clear your mind, and connect with your community.
Here are 10 things walking can do for you.
Boost your energy.
Walking can perk you up when you feel sluggish. The effects of walking on your hormones and chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) can help you feel energized throughout the day.
Brighten your mood, lower your stress.
Exercising lowers blood pressure and stimulates the production of feel-good hormones (endorphins) that decrease the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Walking outdoors for 20 minutes during daylight can provide a dose of vitamin D, which is proven to reduce symptoms of depression. Exercising in the fresh air is also more effective at lowering stress-induced cortisol levels than doing the same intensity of exercise indoors.
Sharpen your mind.
Researchers have found that walking five miles each week may slow cognitive decline in healthy adults and those with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s believed that aerobic exercise like walking can, over time, reduce arterial stiffness and increase blood flow to the brain, protecting your memory and learning centers.
Adding more physical activity like walking to your daily routine can leave you feeling ready for bed at the end of the day. This can improve the quality of your sleep, helping you wake up feeling rested. However, avoid vigorous exercise too close to bedtime as this can stimulate your mind and raise your heart rate.
Find time to socialize.
Ask a friend, partner, child, or a date to walk and talk with you. Maybe your neighborhood has a community walking group you can join. Or, you can use your solo walks to catch up with friends and family on the phone (wear headphones with a built-in microphone). If you have a dog, you can enjoy a long walk or head out on foot to the nearest park.
Reduce your carbon footprint.
By walking across town, instead of driving your car or using a driving service, you can avoid burning fossil fuels and generating carbon emissions.
Get more “me time.”
While walking, use this time to listen to podcasts or audiobooks, take photos of nature and architecture around you, or ponder something you’ve been debating in your mind, giving it your undivided attention. You can even dictate notes or reminders to your phone as you walk.
Explore and discover.
When strolling or briskly walking, you can see corners of your community you don’t notice when you’re behind the wheel. Walk downtown, near street art, around a tree-lined neighborhood, or through a park you’ve been meaning to check out. If you’re able to travel, explore safe areas on foot to get the best street-level perspective.
Pushing yourself to walk longer distances more often can help you quicken your pace. This challenge can feel like a game and will keep you engaged and interested in the act of walking.
Choosing to walk will save you the money you’d otherwise spend on local transportation fees for driving services/taxis, commuter trains, and subways. Putting fewer miles on your car will save you gas and vehicle maintenance money.
Written by Dana Kantrowitz, a contributor to UMiami Health News. Medically reviewed by Michelle Pearlman, M.D. of the University of Miami Health System.