Benefits of walking

Walking is underestimated…

Walking is one of the most natural movements for our body. However, nowadays, with cars, public transport, home-office, and remote learning, it is quite normal to walk from room to room at most. The majority of people underestimate walking and if they should count their steps, the number wouldn’t be higher than a few hundred. But our body is not made to sit around and that is why there are many benefits that come with walking (no pun intended).

And also, if anyone is trying to build their health and perhaps lose few pounds, the first thing they do is to look on weight-loss pills, detox teas, expensive workout plans, gym memberships, intense running, or heavy weightlifting. While all they need to do is take up walking every day. In this article, we will look at why is that so and why I think walking at least 30-45 minutes a day is a great step towards building a healthy body and mind.

Why is walking so great for our body?

The first benefit that I will mention is the fact, that walking is sustainable and poses minimum risks for injuries. In contrast to heavy weightlifting and intense cardio where it is quite common to injure ourselves every now and then (you won’t find an active person who has never injured themselves at least once), with walking the risk of injury is minimal (however, that risk is increasing with old age)[1]. This advantage of walking is very important for obese individuals (now I am not talking about people with 10 to 20 pounds to lose) when the joints and bones are under huge pressure all the time during any activity. In that case, the risk of an injury is high on itself and that is the reason why activities such as running, jumping, or intense heavy lifting are not the best place to start. Walking is, however, a very nonviolent way to move our bodies.

With that, it is connected to an improvement of physical fitness. That goes for everyone but especially for people, who would like to be more active but don’t know where to start. If someone hasn’t moved their body for years, walking helps to improve basic general fitness, strengthen weakened muscles and lubricate joints (which can simultaneously help with joint pain)[2], and prepare their body for more intense movement. It is a good start.

Another important benefit is lowering the risk of heart disease (and therefore helping with heart function). Even though walking is a low-intensity activity, studies have shown that it is an effective way of decreasing the risk of a heart incident[3],[4]. With that, it is connected to another benefit and that is lowering blood sugar levels. With food consumption, our blood sugar level increases. If we often eat food with a high glycaemic index, it can happen that our blood sugar levels will increase in a longterm (which is called hyperglycemia) and that can lead to many health problems such as diabetes, heart attack, strokes, kidney damage, nerve disorders, etc[5].

Walking can decrease the risk of all these complications because it has been proven that it lowers high blood sugar levels. If anyone wants to use that benefit to its full potential, it is ideal to divide walking into shorter intervals after meals. Even though walking for 45 minutes straight has been proven to lower sugar levels as well, 3x 15-minute walks have been shown to be more effective in that aspect[6]. Simultaneously it has been proven that for individuals already suffering from diabetes is walking even more beneficial! It lowers the risk of death two times and decreases the risk of heart disease by five times (and heart incidents are much more likely to happen to a diabetic person than to a healthy individual). So for diabetics, it is even more important![7]

Another great benefit, which is really great for almost all of us, is an improvement in digestion. Individuals, who regularly walk, have a lower likelihood of digestion problems and even disease connected to it. There is strong evidence that walking regularly can decrease the risk of bowel cancer by 50%[8]! It is because the movement of the body stimulates the stomach and intestines which helps with the passage of food. But if you eat a very large and heavy meal, it is good to wait few minutes before you head out for your walk, because the sudden movement can induce stomach aches, especially if the walk is of higher intensity.

Improvement of our mental health is one of the big ones. Everyone who moves their body in any way knows, that they almost always feel much better after the activity than before they started even though they didn’t want to do it in the first place. From the mental health point of view, regular walk (but other forms of exercise as well) has shown these benefits: improved sleep, increased sex interest, stress relief, improved mood, and decreased tiredness[9].

Last but not least, regular walking is of course very beneficial for weight loss. Nowadays, we are so used to travel by car or public transport that we don’t walk nearly as much as we should. That is why small changes such as 30-minute walks or walking up the stairs can make the biggest difference in the amount of energy we are able to burn during the day in the long term. And that can hugely impact the journey to our goals.

How to make it more enjoyable?

A lot of people don’t want to walk because it is boring. And I get that. On the other hand, today we are so overwhelmed with a consumer society that we don’t even have a chance to be with ourselves – I mean, even when we are sitting on a bus we don’t just look out of the window. We need any kind of distraction we can get, doesn’t matter if it’s a phone or a book. So when exactly do you just let your mind be and think about anything if you don’t make a space for it?

But ok, I know some of you don’t want to hear that so I come with completely new, revolutionary and never heard of ideas (this is, ladies and gentlemen, sarcasm, which you have to get used to if you want to read my articles). The first little helper is owning a dog. If you happen to have a dog, you most probably walk the dog every so it can do its business. However, how about taking advantage of it and instead of the five or ten minutes, take it out for 30? You won’t be alone and your dog will be grateful. I started to love walks only after I promised myself I will take out my doggo every day. That made me build a habit and now, even if I am not home with my parents (where my doggo lives), I still go out for a walk every day. And more so, it doesn’t even have to be a friend on paws, you can take out your human friends as well! A conversation is a great way to pass the walking time and it will fly like nothing.

Another absolutely amazing piece of advice is to listen. Listen to your favorite songs which will maybe help you direct your emotions or thoughts, or listen to podcasts. Honestly, podcasts have been a game-changer for me if we talk about daily walks. It is a great way of self-education or pure entertainment and the walks just pass differently. Sometimes I am not in the mood to let my thoughts go wherever, so I just put earbuds into my ears and learn something new.

The last note from me is that walking in nature is the best way of walking if it is even remotely possible. It has been proven that walking in nature has a better impact on our mental health than walking in the streets and it decreases the uncomfortable feeling of time pressure[10],[11]. Nature has simply a completely different vibe than a concrete jungle and it always makes a walk a little more enjoyable.

It can’t hurt…

If you are still unsure and think: “I really don’t have 30 minutes to walk and kill time”, try to ask yourself, whether you don’t have 30 minutes for yourself, your health, and mental well-being. After all, you don’t need to go by yourself, it can be a great way to spend time with your family and friends! And if even in that case you just can’t find a space for walking in your day, well, that is your decision. No one is saying that is an obligation and I think that everyone knows those days when we wouldn’t be able to get in even one more bathroom break. But if you look at it in a long-term sense, maybe it is better to re-evaluate your priorities or at least try to include the smallest changes possible, such as walking up the stairs instead of an elevator or get off a bus one step further than usual and walk home on foot. Just try and see for yourself, it can’t hurt…

[1] CT.F. Jones, Ch.B. Eaton (1994). Cost-benefit Analysis of Walking To Prevent Coronary Heart Disease, Arch Fam Med, 3. 703-710.

[2] Chertoff, Jane (2018). What are Benefits of Walking?

[3] T.F. Jones, Ch.B. Eaton (1994). Cost-benefit Analysis of Walking To Prevent Coronary Heart Disease, Arch Fam Med, 3. 703-710.

[4]Zheng, Orsini, Amin, Nguyen, Ehrlich (2009). Quantifying the dose-response of walking in reducing coronary heart disease risk: meta-analysis, Eur J Epidemiol: 24: 181-192

[5] Dansinger, Michael (2020). Dangers of Uncontrolled Blood Sugar, WebMD.

[6] DiPietro, Gribok, Stevens, Hamm, Rumpler (2013). Three 15-min Bouts of Moderate Postmeal Walking Significantly Improves 24-h Glycemic Control in Older People at Risk for Impaired Glucose Tolerance, Diabetes Care Journals.

[7] Smith, Wingard, Smith B. Kritz-Silverstein, Barret-Connor. (2006). Walking decreased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in older adults with diabetes, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 60: 309-317.

[8] Peters HP, De Vries WR, Vanberge-Henegouwen GP, Akkermans LM. Potential benefits and hazards of physical activity and exercise on the gastrointestinal tract. Gut. 2001;48(3):435-439

[9] Peluso MA, Andrade LH. Physical activity and mental health: the association between exercise and mood. Clinics 2005;60: 61-70

[10] J. Barton , R. Hine & J. Pretty (2009) The health benefits of walking in
greenspaces of high natural and heritage value, Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, 6:4, 261-278,

[11] M.Johansonn & T.Hartig (2011) Psychological Benefits of Walking: Moderation by Company and Outdoor Environment, Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3:3, 261-280