As someone who does not do any extracurricular sports (besides sailing in the summer) but has a lot of energy, I have always struggled to find an outlet for all this energy. At-home work-outs were always tricky to follow and to stay on schedule, and I did not like the fact that if I missed one day, I would be thrown off for the rest of the week. Yoga moved too slow for my pace, and gyms cost money for a membership. However, an extremely easy solution I discovered was walking, something that was free, flexible, and could quite literally be done anywhere. After looking into more of the finer details, I learned walking provides a multitude of benefits I had not even considered before beginning, and therefore I would like to divulge some of the bonuses that come with something we do quite literally every day.
Firstly, and possibly most obviously, walking is greatly beneficial for weight loss and weight maintenance. While I have never struggled with weight control, I do enjoy that I can simultaneously keep my metabolism in check while also enjoying myself. The amount of calories burned on a walk depends on a number of factors: the walking speed, the amount of distance covered, the terrain (example: an uphill rocky surface versus a smooth flat one) and your weight when beginning. However, even short walks will begin to add up when they are on top of the regular amount of steps taken per day.
They are also beneficial in a less specific sense when referring to overall health. Primarily, walking is a cardiovascular (cardio) exercise, meaning it works out your heart and contributes to keeping it healthy. Doctors have found that walking just thirty minutes a day, five days a week, can reduce the risk for coronary heart disease by almost 20%. They found that as the duration and distance increase, so do the chances of you not contracting heart disease. This puts you at less of a risk for heart disease, as mentioned, or high blood pressure and type two diabetes. Furthermore, it can help lower your blood sugar and ease your joints. Another small study found that taking just three short 15-minute walks after eating helped to lower blood sugar levels. Walking also helps to protect joints at the hips, knees and ankles because it lubricates and strengthens the muscles found around them. Another study found that taking walks helped to reduce pain in patients suffering with arthritis, and people who walked five to six miles a week may even be able to prevent arthritis altogether.
Even better, walking can help improve one’s immune system. A scientific study performed on 1,000 adults during flu season found those who walked between thirty and forty minutes a day had an average of 43 fewer sick days than those who lead more sedentary lifestyles. On top of that, they had fewer upper respiratory infections, and if they did catch the flu, their symptoms were observed to be less severe. This, combined with the feel-good endorphins your body produces after exercise, help to combat any illnesses, especially in the winter months.
Several studies have shown that walking can help reduce anxiety, depression, negative moods and social withdrawal while boosting positive self esteem. Other benefits include increased oxygen flow throughout your body, which increases levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Cortisol is the brain chemical responsible for controlling stress and stress management, meaning that walking often eases one’s mind. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, helps to control some of the factors mentioned earlier, while norepinephrine acts as another type of stress hormone. Walking’s multitude of neurological benefits greatly contribute to overall health.
In other benefits not directly related to bodily health, walking can help to extend your life. It was found by researchers that walking for only twenty minutes a day at a brisk pace can help reduce the risk of death by 20%. The faster the pace though — such as four miles an hour — reduced the risk by 24%. This is mainly due to walking’s association with illnesses such as heart disease, as previously mentioned, and risk of cancer. Walking can also contribute to becoming more of a creative and open-minded thinker. When challenged to think of new ideas, researchers found participants were much more likely to come up with creative ideas when walking outside than sitting indoors or performing another activity simultaneously.
Walking is also healthy not just personally, but to the entire environment. By walking to locations close to home instead of driving, it is easy to avoid carbon emissions that are dangerous to the ozone layer. Cars make up almost 80% of carbon monoxide emissions (a gas that can be poisonous when concentrated) and 55% of nitrogen oxide emissions in the United States alone. If every citizen took the initiative and began walking, there could be great improvements made in our living environments, natural resources and health benefits. More selfishly, it also makes economic sense. More walking means less money needed for gas as well as vehicle maintenance. If that number could be lowered just by two percent, how much money would be saved?
I greatly enjoy walking for the personal aspect as well. I find it to be the most productive outlet for my energy, and it has also helped me creatively. But when I find that I am stressed out, or that I need a break, it helps me to put in my headphones and walk around my neighborhood to clear my head and clear my lungs. It has made me appreciate where I live and how lucky I am to be able to see these pictures every day. Truly though, my favorite thing about taking walks is the absolute freedom I have. I can go wherever I want, whenever I want, and not only do I have the liberty, but it is going towards a positive outlet — bettering my mind, body and community.