What Happens to Your Body When You Walk More, Says Science
Fact: No form of exercise has been analyzed more thoroughly by scientific experts than walking. And while so many forms of working out have been found to come with caveats, "buts," and casual warning labels ("HIIT is great for you, but don't do too much;" "strength training is wonderful for your body, but certain exercises you should never do;" "running is a terrific exercise, but it can cause joint issues down the road"), walking is universally regarded as not only the safest form of exercise but also one of the most effective. Consider it an added bonus that you can do it practically forever.
Put simply, walking more—whether you going for a casual stroll around the park, going shopping, or performing walking intervals on a treadmill at your gym or at the local track—is integral to your health, your conditioning, and, ultimately, your longevity. For some of the amazing things that happen to your body when you become a committed daily walker, read on, because we've compiled several of them all right here. And for really ramping up your daily walks, see here for 4 Amazing Ways to Lose Weight While Walking for Just 20 Minutes, According to a Top Trainer.
Your Brain Will Flourish at an Optimal Level
There is no shortage of science that links walking, along with other forms of moderate exercise—which are defined by The Cleveland Clinic as exercise that essentially doubles your heart rate—with a flourishing, fertile brain. One study, published by APA PsycNet, found that exercising more is associated with the creation successful innovations. (After all, some of history's greatest thinkers, from Plato to Steve Jobs, were committed walkers.)
"Because we don't have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind's theater," The New Yorker once observed. "This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight."
More recently, a study conducted by researchers at Austria's University of Graz and published in the journal Scientific Reports found that walking is directly linked to enhanced creativity. So when your teachers, bosses, and doctors say things like, "your best thinking happens while you're walking," they're speaking the scientific truth. And for some great ways to take your walking to a higher level, make sure you're aware of the The Secret Trick for Walking for Exercise, According to Health Experts at Harvard University.
You'll Give Your Body a Boost of Energy
It's true that any physical activity that gets your heart pumping, your blood flowing, and your body's endorphins moving will result in enhanced energy levels. Walking is no exception, and you don't have to walk for hours and hours to experience the benefits. Going for just a 20-minute walk for three days every week for six weeks can result in 20% more energy levels and less feelings of fatigue, according to research by the University of Georgia that was published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
You'll Reset Your Body Clock and Sleep Better
Well, if you walk within two hours of getting up in the morning, says Michael Mosley, MD, the science journalist and host of the BBC Radio 4 podcast titled "Just One Thing." It all has to do with your exposure to natural light, which will reset your body clock.
"Because our clocks run longer than 24 hours, it's important to reset your body clock every morning with exposure to the morning's blue light, which our receptors are especially sensitive to," said Mosley in a recent episode. "Light helps to reset our internal body clock. Exposure to light also suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that encourages us to go to sleep."
By walking earlier in the morning, you'll help your body sleep better later. And for some great advice from the front lines of exercise science, make sure you're aware of the One Major Side Effect of Sitting on the Couch Too Much, Says New Study.
You'll Lower Your Blood Sugar Levels
Especially if you head out for a walk right after eating a big meal. According to a 2016 study of people who suffer from Type-2 diabetes, which was published in the journal Diabetologia, heading out for a 10-minute walk after eating a meal helped test subjects lower their blood sugar levels. For more great advice on walking properly, make sure you know the Major Mistakes You Should Never Make While Walking, Say Experts.
You'll Be Less Bummed Out
According to the health experts at The Mayo Clinic, performing exercise like walking can ease symptoms associated with depression and anxiety by releasing endorphins (which will "enhance your sense of wellbeing"), distract your mind ("so you can get away from the cycle of negative thoughts"), help you gain confidence ("meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence"), and help you cope ("doing something positive to manage depression or anxiety is a healthy coping strategy").
The stress-reducing benefits of walking are best experienced in nature. A recent article in The Guardian highlighted a new COVID-19-era trend of people who are practicing therapy while going on walks. "There's something hugely freeing about being in open space and some people go deeper far sooner than they would do in a room," said Beth Collier, M.A., MBACP, the founder of the Nature Therapy School. "The part of the brain that is responsible for ruminative and negative thoughts—the subgenual prefrontal cortex—has been shown to quieten when we connect with nature, which gives people more space to process their problems."
You'll Burn More Calories and Even Lose Weight
If you take a brisk 20-minute walk—and, for the record, a "brisk" walk is one that is fast enough that you can talk but you cannot sing—you'll burn somewhere in the realm of 90 to 110 calories, and studies show that walking can be a terrific way to lose weight. One study, published in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, found that obese women who walked over the course of a 12-week trial lost belly fat.
You'll Protect Your Heart and Live Longer
A 2018 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine of more than 50,000 walkers concluded that brisk walking is directly linked with a much lower risk of heart disease and early death. What's more, older people (those who are above 60 years in age) who picked up their walking pace experienced "a 53 percent" lower risk of dying from heart disease. A big study published in 2015 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a brisk 20-minute walk every day could reduce your risk of death by upwards of 30%.
Your Bones Will Get Stronger
According to the health experts at the UK's Ashtead Hospital, taking daily walks is crucial for healthy and strong bones. "Bone is living tissue and becomes stronger with exercise," they write. "Walking involves your feet and legs supporting your weight so that your bones have to work harder and this makes them stronger."
If you'd really like to ramp up the benefits to your bones of walking, they suggest altering your pace, jumping at times, and walking in different ways. "Side-stepping or walking backwards can also create new stress to your bones, so long as you do it safely!," the health experts advise. "You could try incorporating a pattern of alternative walking every three to five minutes. For example: 30 seconds each walking sideways one way then the other, then walk backwards for 30 seconds, 30 seconds on the balls of your feet and 30 seconds on your heels." And to make sure you're wearing the right shoes while doing this routine, make sure you're aware of The Single Worst Shoes for Walking Every Day, According to a New Study.
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