The health benefits of brisk walking are well-documented. A Google search brings up 1.26 trillion results.
Yet despite the health benefits of walking, the World Health Organisation (WHO) report that fewer people are engaging in physical exercise.
A 2018 report published by WHO revealed that 80% of the world’s adolescent population does not receive an adequate amount of physical exercise.
It should come as no surprise that global obesity is at an all-time high. In the last 55 years, worldwide obesity has tripled. WHO estimates 1.9 million adults are overweight and 650 million are considered obese.
Moreover, being overweight is linked to the rise in chronic health. In short, obesity is a natural born killer.
WHO advises that insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors of early deaths, and is a key risk for noncommunicable diseases such as heart diseases, cancer and diabetes.
To stay in good health, it is recommended adults should engage in moderate to vigorous exercise for at least two and a half hours a week. Children need at least one hour a day.
Numerous studies show brisk walking is proven to help people improve their health. What’s more, walking is considered moderate exercise – so all it takes is 30 minutes a day, five days a week to fulfil your quota.
Below are ten health benefits regular walking provides.
- Reduce Stress Levels
Brisk walking has found to produce stress-busting endorphins which reduce stress hormones. A study performed on 135 university students found leisurely physical exercise is more effective at reducing stress levels than aerobic exercise.
To enhance the stress-relieving benefits of walking, escaping into nature also helps the mind find a calm state. Research published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine in the UK found that walking in green spaces lowers anxiety levels that are typically prompted by stress.
The human body is genetically modified to feel calmer when in or around nature. Exposure to green spaces triggers a release of cortisol in the brain – a natural stress-reducing chemical.
For people that live in busy, chaotic cities, a dose of nature and a brisk walk is an effective remedy that does not cost you anything.
- Brisk Walking Helps Control Your Weight
The Mayo Clinic advises that regular walking helps to control weight. Together with a balanced diet, a brisk 30-minute walk every day will help you shed the pounds.
A study undertaken in the United States found that people that live in a walkable neighbourhood weighed 6-10 pounds less than people from areas that were considered less walkable.
The pace you walk will also determine how many calories you lose. Naturally, a brisk walk will shed more body fat than a casual saunter.
However, doctors also warn not to do too much too soon. If you’re walking as part of a weight loss program, faster is not necessarily better – especially if you have abstained from exercise for a prolonged period.
When you exercise beyond your capacity, you increase the risk of becoming injured. You also put more strain on your heart which is not healthy if you are already overweight.
The distance, or period, you walk will depend on your tolerance levels. Start with a 30-minute walk at a reasonable pace and see how you feel. If you start feeling the energy drain, take a rest. Assess your body the next day and push yourself a little harder each time.
3. Walking Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) understand the benefits of walking. As discussed in an earlier blog post, the BHF hold regular walking events throughout the UK.
Heart research shows that walking helps to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and angina. The BHF recommends that if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, you should make walking a regular activity. It will help to protect your heart.
Several independent studies concluded that walking is “the first steps in cardiovascular disease prevention.” The study noted that: “Pedometer-, mobile phone (apps)– and computer-based programs are effective in increasing walking levels.”
The Beth Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard in the US also noted: “An analysis of numerous studies on walking and heart concluded that the risk for developing heart disease decreases as the number of walking increases.”
Retired men who walk more than 1.5 miles per day had a significantly lower risk for heart disease (compared to men who walk less), according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. Walking at a moderate pace (3 to 4 miles per hour) for up to 3 hours each week (equates to 30 minutes a day) can cut women’s heart disease risk by 40%, according to a Harvard study.
4. Boosts Immune System
Given COVID-19 has sparked widespread interest in improving your immune function, this is a good time to take up regular walking. Numerous studies have shown that brisk walking for 30-45 minutes a day – at a pace of 2.5 to 4 mph – can strengthen your immunity.
The Center for Nutritional Studies reports walking fine times a week leads to fewer respiratory problems. One study showed that people who exercise regularly are 26% less likely to develop cold and flu symptoms. When illness did strike, the suffering was weaker.
5. Helps Manage Diabetes
Moderate exercise causes your heart to beat a little faster and makes your lungs work a little harder. As a result, your muscles use more glucose which lowers your blood sugar levels. It also makes the insulin in your body work better.
A study found that taking a short 15-minute walk after eating helps to improve blood sugar levels and consequently combat diabetes in over 60s.
The number of studies that found walking helps reduce the amount of sugar in your blood prompted Diabetes UK to organise fun and family-sponsored walking events through the UK.
Doctors stress that people with diabetes should only engage in moderate physical activity like walking. Strenuous exercise triggers stress hormones and temporarily increases blood sugar levels.
6. Reduce Risk of Cancer
Cancer UK reports that researchers have found evidence that walking reduces the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer. The comprehensive study involved almost 140,000 participants enrolled for the American Cancer Society Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort.
The study found that adults engaging in 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity activity” a week is linked with lower mortality rates. A European study estimates brisk walking can add seven years to your life.
Moderate-intensity exercise is considered to be equal to a 3mph brisk walk or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise – preferably spread throughout the week. A Harvard study found the risk of cancer can be reduced by as much as 54% simply by walking for 3 to 5 hours a week.
7. Boost Mental Health by Walking
People that exercise regularly say they do it for the after-effects. Physical activity triggers endorphins and gives you an enormous sense of wellbeing. Endorphins are good for mental health because they improve your mood, your sleep and your sex life.
A study published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health linked a 15-minute walk with a reduction in depression. Together with the endorphin release, exercise serves as a distraction from negative thinking cycles that feeds poor mental health.
The number of mental health cases was increasing before the outbreak of coronavirus. Authorities are now warning that the pandemic could exacerbate mental health issues.
So walking can help boost your mental health and your immunity to keep you safe from Covid-19 as well!
8. Walking Combats Arthritis
Walking is a low impact activity that can help people with arthritisget more exercise. Online magazine, Arthritis Health report:
“Walking is the best way to begin the transition from inactivity to activity—even if you have arthritis in a weight-bearing joint like your knee or hip.”Arthritis Health
Studies back up the hypothesis. Researchers controlling an 8-week program of supervised fitness walking found that people suffering from arthritis in the knees were able to increase the distance they walked by 18% throughout the study.
Moreover, the same study found that participants gained a 40% improvement in joint function, experienced less pain and took less medication.
If you do suffer from knee arthritis, it is advisable to consult your physician before you go walking. Seek some advice about how far you should walk and whether you will need to be accompanied by a carer.
You should also perform some light warm-up exercises to encourage the flow of synovial fluid, the liquid that cushions your joints. This should help ease any pain you might feel in your knees in the early part of your walk.
9. Walking Has Positive Cognitive Effects
According to theNational Institutes of Health, regular walking helps to boost cognitive function and can stave off developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50%.
Walking reduces brain atrophy and mental decline, reducing dementia and improving memory. The research found that walking can lower brain shrinkage by activating neural growth and reducing inflammation which helps to promote feelings of wellbeing and calmness.
It has also been found that walking, for people of all ages, helps clear your mind and help you think more creatively. A study that included four experiments discovered people that walk outdoors had more free-flowing ideas than people that spent all their time sitting.
Given sedentary jobs has been linked with ill-health, companies that encourage employees to take walking breaks can help improve the mental and physical health of your employees.
By promoting superior cognitive functioning you can help improve performance, inspiration and innovation.
10. Improve Sleep
Walking releases melatonin, a natural chemical in the brain that regulates circadian rhythm that is linked with sleep. Changes in light and temperature help tell the body when to feel tired.
Studies show that melatonin decreased the amount of time that it took the participants to fall asleep and increased the duration of their sleep. Moreover, exercise proved to be more be effective than a placebo.
In addition to releasing melatonin, being exposed to natural light outside was found to reduce stress and physical wellbeing which subsequently aids neural pathways for a better night’s sleep.
Everybody needs some form of regular exercise no matter how vigorous. Because walking is a moderate form of physical activity it is a good starting point to promote more vigorous forms of exercise for those that are capable.
If you suffer from health conditions already, walking is a non-impact exercise that can have significant benefits. Try walking for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
Although brisk walking is more effective than a casual walk, it is recommended that you walk at your own pace. If you have an existing medical condition, consult your doctor and ask them what they would recommend is a good solution for you.
For example, if you are unable to sustain a consecutive 30-minute walk, try walking in stages. 10-minutes at a time is sufficient. As you start to feel the benefits of walking, you can gradually build up to longer sessions.
And why not make walking pay. With the free Sweatcoin app, you can convert your steps into a digital currency that can be used to get discounts on hundreds of products. We already have over 300 participating brands and the number of companies invested in promoting public health continues to grow.
Download the Sweatcoin app for free today and set yourself goals to take advantage of the latest offers.