Often the most underused exercise equipment you have are your feet. For most people, walking is the most ubiquitous and necessary form of exercise you can do for your health and wellness. The nature of merely walking has benefits for the very young to the elderly, making it a universal activity that people with mobility can do.
So many physically active people exclude long walks for running or biking as a better way to get physically fit, but there is a place in everyone’s schedule for some good old fashioned walking.
In our 21st century world of exercise, walking is often the path less traveled. Many people think that physical training needs to be strenuous, chronic and measured in hours or miles. A point that gets missed in the “no pain no gain” world of running and biking is the cost to your body with wear and tear.
Here a few benefits that walking can bring to keep you healthy and happy:
1. Let’s compare walking vs. running. A 60-minute walk will burn roughly 270 calories and a 30-minute run will burn 300 calories. The face value of this comparison shows running as a better calorie burner. Based on recent studies, walking may seem better for fat burn for some people. Losing weight is about calorie burn, but if you are discounting a brisk walk, you may be missing out on a better way to remove both visceral (fat stored around your organs) and subcutaneous fat (fat that sits just under the skin) from your body.
2. If you were asking most healthcare professionals (depending on your age and any physical limitation you may have), they would advise you against running. Running is extremely hard on your connective tissue, pelvic hip complex, and feet. I am not saying that you should never run, it all depends on your age and physical condition. Brisk walking daily will have low to no negative impact on your body. For those of you who choose to run, limit it to only a few days a week and add a fair amount of walking every day. Brisk 30 to 60 minute walks daily will bring considerable improvements to your overall health.
3. Walking is healthy for your brain. Studies have found that as we age, walking can enhance our cognition and lower the risk of developing dementia and even Alzheimers. Walking is a natural mood booster that can bring you out of a depressed state of mind. There is also a meditation practice where walking becomes mindful meditation. There are some books on Kinhin or walking meditation that is common in the eastern practice of Zen.
4. Walking on a regular basis will increase both lower and upper body strength. Walking is excellent for all ages in building better mobility, balance, and flexibility. When you walk, your upper body arm movements sync up with your gait and foot placement to give you a low impact, full body workout. Walking strengthens and tones both large and small muscle groups, giving you better body composition.
5. Walking every day is a natural way to improve your ability to get a good night’s sleep and improve your immunity. The combination of increased blood flow, circulation, fresh air, and exposure to daylight all has a profound effect on your body’s sleep and immune mechanisms. Brisk walks on a daily basis can, in fact, give you the needed boost to avoid seasonal illness and hold off seasonal affective disorder or “SAD” in winter months.
6. Studies have found that just 20 minutes of walking can significantly reduce inflammation in the body. Reducing inflammation in the body is a critical aspect for those of you that struggle with arthritis, autoimmune disease, and coronary artery disease. The anti-inflammatory effect of walking can be one of the best ways to self-care certain chronic health conditions. Please check with your doctor to ensure the proper amount of walking based on your health concerns.
7. Irregular walking has enhanced health benefits. Depending on your physical ability, walking backward and to the side can have added physical improvements. Uneven walking burns more calories, improves flexibility and balance. Irregular walking will also strengthen core and pelvic hip muscle groups that are significantly affected by the regular motion of walking.
8. For those of you who are struggling with obesity or a significant weight problem, walking can be the best way to lose your weight and get healthy. If you’re struggling with obesity and find that exercise programs are overwhelming, low impact walking can change your life. Research has found that obese people burned more calories walking at a slower study pace than people with average body weight. Since walking is a low impact activity, it places less stress on an obese person’s cardiovascular, skeletal and soft tissue systems. As you lose weight and improve strength, your pace and distance will improve. Since people with obesity and metabolic disease burn fewer calories when they exercise, walking will need to be done consistently over time to see it’s full benefit.
Overall, people in the U.S. walk less than almost every other country in the world. We also have the highest number of overweight and unhealthy citizens than other industrialized countries.
If 20 percent more people living in the U.S. walked a mere 10,000 steps, we would see a noticeable change in this growing healthcare crisis. Walking is low impact, practical and not only great for your body, but it’s good for your mental well being. Start to make a difference in your health by embracing a pleasant walk on a daily basis as part of your exercise regimen.
Judd Jones is a certified primal health coach and fitness consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org www.jhanawellness.com.