The Many Health Benefits of Walking

benefits of walking

The Olympics were already almost a month ago. After watching them day after day—the Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Usain Bolts of the world—are you pumped up or exhausted??!

It’s amazing to think of the dedication these people put into getting there in the first place. And then the extra it takes to get to the medal ranks. Wow.

Thankfully, we can appreciate all they do with their world-class achievements, and still enjoy just stepping out our door to get some exercise and fresh air.

Not athletic enough to dominate in beach volleyball, pole-vaulting or hurdles? No matter. Plain ol’ walking turns out to be one of the very best ways to boost your health.

Ok, I’ll admit it—I used to think walking was for sissies. If you can’t play sports, or don’t like running, well you can just walk then.

But the older I get, and the more little injuries I keep getting when running, the more walking is appealing to me! Getting close to the half-century mark — and then crossing it — and my body just doesn’t handle the running as well.

So here we are talking about walking!

Major benefits of walking

1. CARDIO. According to the American Heart Association, a walk is every bit as beneficial as a run for lowering our risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

2. BONE STRENGTH. Any weight-bearing exercise is good for our bones, including walking—especially to help prevent osteoporosis.

3. DIGESTIVE SYSTEM. From your esophagus to your colon, and all the plumbing in-between. There’s all kinds of online articles like this one about the benefits of walking after meals for both digestion and to keep blood sugar levels lower.

4. BRAIN HEALTH. Studies show exciting news about our brains and aging—regular moderate exercise (like walking) has been found to boost brain health in the areas affecting memory and thinking skills.

5. IMMUNE SYSTEM. Walking and other moderate aerobic exercise boosts your immune system and helps prevent disease, from the common cold to several types of cancer.

6. EMOTIONAL HEALTH. Not just walking, but walking in natural areas (as opposed to along a busy highway, for example) is good for the soul. The combination of moderate exercise and nature decreases moodiness, depression and stress. (For more on this, read The Many Benefits of Nature.)

Are you convinced about the benefits of walking? Maybe you were before we started — often the big problem isn’t believing it, it’s doing it. Here are some ideas to start and stick with it…

Just do it! or…How to stay motivated

1. NEVER THINK OF IT AS UNIMPORTANT. Keep the above list on your refrigerator and bathroom mirror. These health benefits are the result of a lifestyle of, literally, putting one foot in front of the other.

2. COMMIT TO 150 MINUTES A WEEK. Whether it’s 30 minutes 5 times a week, or 15 minutes twice a day, or 10 minutes three times a day…we can fit it in somewhere!

3. BUY A PEDOMETER or a FitBit or Apple Watch, or something to track your steps. Studies are now showing that even a daily hour-long workout isn’t enough to offset being sedentary the other 23 hours. Shoot for 10,000 steps a day (including your daily walk), throughout the day.

4. WALK WITH A FRIEND. There’s strength in numbers, especially if you need the positive peer pressure to stay motivated. Just don’t offset the mental benefits by talking about negative things!

5. MULTI-TASK. Many of my very best prayer times happen while I’m walking. Other options: listen to music, a podcast or audio book. But be safe—always be aware of your surroundings whether it’s traffic, other people or animals.

6. GET A DOG. Seriously! Mine will never say no to a walk. Having to walk the dog is another good reason to get out there and just do it.

7. HAVE A BACKUP PLAN FOR BAD WEATHER. Notice how I assume we’ll be walking outside? Then you get the benefit of both the outdoors and walking. But if you don’t like facing bad weather or don’t have the gear for it yet, there are other options—find a used treadmill, walk the local mall with the other mall-walkers, or get a gym membership.

So, whether it’s your primary exercise, your cross-training alternative or simply a gentler way to recover from an injury—don’t discount walking as a great health booster. I’m finally seeing the light myself.

Do you walk? How often? Where? Alone or with a companion?

(PHOTO: Walking along the Magnetic Rock hiking trail in northern Minnesota)

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