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5 Best Health Benefits of Walking, Says Science

For starters, it can be a major stress-reliever!
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Want to stress less, sleep better, and possibly live longer? Lace up your sneakers, step outside (or onto a treadmill), and go for a walk. Rinse and repeat 20 minutes daily to reap the most benefits from this super simple form of exercise.

"The mental and physical health benefits of walking are endless," says Christine Torde, CPT of Body Space Fitness in Manhattan. "The best part is that it's free to do, doesn't require any special skills or equipment, and is easy to fit into a daily routine."

Need some extra motivation to add more steps to your day? Read on to learn about some of the best health benefits of walking, according to recent research. And next, don't miss this 25-Minute Slimming Walking Workout.

1

It can help you maintain a healthy weight.

middle aged couple walking outdoors
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Walking burns calories and can help maintain muscle mass, explains Torde. So it makes sense that it can play a role in weight management. One International Journal of Obesity study found that those who took 15,000 or more steps per day tended to have a smaller waist circumference and a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to those who were more sedentary. Walking 15,000 steps is a lot, though—we totally get it. It will take the average person about 2 hours to hit that number. To make it happen, consider scattering your steps throughout your day. Maybe you take an hour-long walk before work and then scatter shorter bouts later on.

If you don't have the time to hit the 15,000 mark, try to get more weight maintenance benefits from the walking you can do. You can do this by planning a route that includes hills. Or, if you feel up to it, Torde recommends adding in a few light jogging intervals. "You can use mailboxes or light poles as your stop and go points. After each bit of jogging, wait until you catch your breath, then repeat," she says. She also recommends adding some bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, lunges after your walk. "Since you are nice and warm, it's a great way to challenge the muscles and boost the health benefits."

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2

It can help manage chronic conditions.

medical device for measuring cholesterol with stethoscope on the table.
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If your doctor has told you that you have an increased risk for chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, consider making walks part of your daily routine. Using data from the National Walkers' Health study, researchers found that taking regular strolls reduced the risk of these conditions by 7.7%, 7%, and 12.3%, respectively. Walking can also help if you already have chronic health issues, Torde notes. "For example, my father had high blood pressure, and when he started going on daily walks, he not only lowered his blood pressure, but he lost weight as well," she says.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises walking at least 20 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a similar recommendation for those looking to manage diabetes and pre-diabetes. "Being active makes your body more sensitive to insulin, the hormone that allows cells in your body to use blood sugar for energy. That's why regular walking can help manage diabetes and pre-diabetes," explains Torde.

Related: Secret Effects of Walking After a Meal, Science Says

3

It can help you de-stress.

fit middle-aged man walking on the beach on a sunny day
Shutterstock / mimagephotography

After a long, stressful day, it's tempting to plop down in front of the TV with a glass of wine to unwind. But going for a stroll can also help you get into relaxation mode—and is a lot better for your health. "Since it increases blood flow and blood circulation to the body and brain, walking helps improve your mood," explains Torde. In fact, just 10 minutes of walking can have mood-boosting benefits, according to one University of Mississippi study.

To get more bang for your buck, head to a woodsy walking trail or a park to log your steps. "Research shows that walking in nature can improve your mental state," says Torde. Recruiting a friend or pet to tag along can also help you get more stress-busting benefits from your walk, she adds. Having a bit of social interaction can make you feel connected to others, which can make you feel happier. Can't find a walking buddy? "I always recommend taking your favorite podcast, playlist, or audiobook on walks," says Torde. "Maybe something that will make you laugh or dance!"

Related: The Worst Lifestyle Habits Causing You to Feel Older, Science Says

4

It supports your immune system.

Young woman in sportswear having a morning exercise walking in the park with skyscrapers on the background in Frankfurt city
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Maintaining a healthy immune system is top of mind for everyone these days, and walking seems to help a bit. One small study, for example, found that walking for 30 minutes causes a temporary boost in virus-attacking white blood cells. Additional research supports this finding. A British Journal of Sports Medicine study tracked 1,000 adults during flu season and found that those who walked for 30 to 45 minutes a day had 43 percent fewer sick days than their sedentary counterparts. They also tended to have relatively mild symptoms if they did get sick.

Related: Bad Walking Habits Every Walker Should Quit, Say Experts

5

It may even extend your life.

Senior tourist couple travellers hiking in nature, walking and talking.
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Yes, seriously! Since chronic stress and chronic health conditions can all increase your risk of premature death, it should be no surprise that controlling these factors may help to extend your life. One review of 14 walking studies (including data from 280,000 people!) found that walking about three hours per week was associated with an 11 percent reduced risk of death from all causes compared with those who did little or no activity. Don't have three hours per week to commit to walking? A British Journal of Sports Medicine study found that those who do just 10 to 59 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) per week had an 18% lower risk of death during the study follow-up period than those who were inactive.

The bottom line: Every step counts.

For more, check out Exactly How Fast You Need to Walk to Live Longer, Says Science.

Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more
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