Why walking makes you healthier
Will just walking keep me healthy?
How does walking affect my body?
- Heart becomes stronger
The American Heart Association’s research proves that walking for 30 minutes a day enhances the work of heart, arteries, and blood pathways. Your heart rate rises from 70 to 100 beats per minute, and your blood flow increases. All your muscles start working faster and consuming excess fat for extra energy. As blood vessels expand and enrich the blood with oxygen, your blood pressure lowers and the heart muscle starts to pump more intensively. Because more blood is pumped than usual, the heart becomes sturdier and stronger.
- It reduces the risk of stroke
Stroke Association researchers say that 30 minutes of brisk walking every day reduce the risk of a heart attack by up to 27%. Walking is a vigorous cardio exercise that lowers the level of bad cholesterol and increases the good kind. It also helps to control high blood pressure to release our body from stress and tension.
- It prevents diabetes
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proved that people with diabetes who do any physical activity 2 hours a week lower their mortality risk by up to 29%. Walking over 3–4 hours a week reduces this risk by up to 54%.
- It reduces excess fat
National Walkers’ Health Study proved that walking for 30 minutes at a speed of 2 mph (miles per hour) burns 75 calories. Speed up to 3 mph and you’ll burn 99 calories. Why does it work this way? Walking warms up our muscles and blood vessels. The body burns extra fat and carbohydrates to fuel the muscles. Your skin pores expand to release the heat and excess fluids. We call it sweating. With sweat you can lose up to 4 calories per minute of walking 4.5 miles per hour. If you’ve had a milkshake or a doughnut, just walk with 4mph speed for 30 minutes and you’ll burn it off.
- It trains key muscles
The American College of Sports Medicine says that walking 150 minutes a week is enough to train your shins, calfs, front thigh muscles, hamstrings and glutes. Lower body muscles help to pump blood back to the heart and improve blood flow during the walk. It increases their muscular endurance and dynamic balance. Walking is a natural exercise for training the whole body.
- It prevents arthritis
The American Council on Exercise notes that walking warms up and trains key muscles of the human body as well as running and working out. It strengthens bones and joints and boosts blood flow. These positive changes prevent arthritis.
- It prevents osteoporosis
According to Marcus Davis, an osteopath at the Harley Street Back Centre in London, walking helps to drain the legs of excess fluid and prevents varicose veins and osteoporosis. Besides, there are some parts of the body that work only when we walk — our feet. David Goysett, expert podiatrist at the Third Space Medical Center says that walking is the best way of exercising the 50-odd muscles and 26 bones within the foot. Without proper training they become weak.
How does walking affect my brain?
- It improves your thinking processes
Scientists from Harvard recommend taking breaks every 20 minutes during the daytime and going for walks. Walking home from work helps to shift thoughts from work to family life. The Harvard research also claims it makes no difference if you exercise outside or just wander around the room. Those who took tests while walking responded better than seated participants.
- It reduces a risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s
An American College of Sports Medicine’s report says that walking improves mental sharpness and prevents various forms of mental decline such as dementia. It happens because walking increases blood flow and brings more oxygen to your brain. At Pittsburgh University, doctor Kirk Erickson and his colleagues monitored 300 volunteers for 13 years and discovered that those who walk 2 km per day cut their risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50% in comparison to those who walked less or didn’t walk at all.
- It increases your creativity
Stanford research claims that walking boosts memory and creative thinking. While walking our eyes, ears, and skin receive many signals from the world. As a result, our brain catches new ideas and fresh perspectives on life — gets more creative. Steve Jobs used to conduct meetings on foot, as Mark Zuckerberg does today. If you need to find a solution for some difficult task or life situation — go for a walk.
- Walking reduces stress and improves mood
Health care professionals at Walking for Health have noted that walking for 20–30 minutes per day reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Also a research article in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine proves that those students who walked regularly had a lower stress level than those who spent too much time sitting or those who trained too much with the weights.
Walking allows you to think and clean your mind of negative thoughts. During the walks the levels of mood-elevating endorphins increase. They reduce physical and emotional stress. You become more patient and calm: high levels of good chemicals reduce the risk for depression and pessimism. Walking is a natural antidepressant to fight against a stressful environment.
- It raises self-esteem
Harvard Health Publishing also proved that people who walk have high self-esteem. Walking means meeting new people on the street and being more social than those who sit in the office for 8 hours non-stop. The more we communicate and leave our comfort zones, the more confident we become.
How to walk everyday
How to walk everyday
The American Heart Association describes a correct posture for walking:
- Keep your backbone erect to disperse physical stress across the whole body, not only the lower part;
- Look right in front of you and hold your chin slightly up to straighten your neck. This will prevent injuries to the cervical spine;
- Bend your arms at 90 degrees and swing. Keep your shoulders relaxed and moved them back a little to make your abs and waist work, too;
- Choose a comfortable stride length to avoid straining your joints or muscles.
Inhale through the nose and exhale slowly through pursed lips. Breathing out should last twice as long as breathing in. It’ll restore oxygen to your body faster. Don’t take deep breaths — it causes chest tightness and shortness of breath.
Mind your posture while walking — it should be relaxed. Stressed muscles use more oxygen and make your breathing more intensive. That’s why you should keep your chest and shoulders relaxed.
Start walking with the heel, roll the feet from the heel to the toes and push off. During the walk your feet should point straight forward. The heels have to be in full contact with the surface.
Start with smaller steps to find your ideal stride. As you start walking for longer distances you may enlarge the stride and use a more intensive arm swing to shape your upper body and burn more calories.
Choose a flat and forgiving surface to save your joints from injuries. Prefer asphalt, foot paths, and dirt trails to concrete sidewalks. If you like walking in the hills or mountains, watch out for rocks, roots, bumps, and hidden holes. They may cause a serious damage to your ankles. In this case get hiking shoes with additional support.
To achieve better results try not to stop during the walks. It’s one of the reasons why walking may lose its efficiency compared to other exercises. Stephen M. Roth, a professor at the department of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, explains that when we stop walking our body produces lactic acid, or lactate. The body itself blocks the production of glucose, and muscles start working slower. It’s a defense mechanism of our body preventing possible damage from physical stress. If you stop during the training it will be harder to continue walking, because lactate blocks pathways for oxygen and glucose to the muscles.
How fast should I walk?
- Imagine, it’s winter and there’s a bus you need to catch. But it’s getting ready to leave the bus stop. How would you walk to catch it? Right, you’ll speed up your pace and start walking more vigorously than usual.
- Another option is to walk fast enough that you begin to feel winded. Remember that you should not run. One leg always has to be on the ground.
- A more decent way to check your speed is to walk a one-mile track at the stadium. You should cover the distance in 15 minutes or less to be sure you’re walking briskly.
- Your breathing is also an indicator of intensity. Easy breathing means you are walking at a casual pace. If your speech halts while walking — it’s a brisk 3–4 mph pace. When you can’t speak while walking, this means you are breaking into a jog and you need to slow down.
Be brisk and vigorous, but don’t run. Walking has a pivotal difference from running — during a walk one leg always stays on the ground while the other is moving forward. In running there is a slight moment when both feet are in the air.
How do I find time for walking?
- Walk to work
Don’t drive to work but walk. Besides training your muscles and setting your thoughts on work, you’ll save yourself $1500 a year just on gas for the car and help keep the planet green. If your office is far away, drive to work but park a few blocks away from there and walk. At lunchtime don’t go to the closest cafeteria — pick a distant one and walk.
- Walk with a dog
Dogs are good buddies for a brisk walk. They make it more fun and safe and don’t let you slow down or rest.
- Go shopping
Combine your shopping weekend with walking. It might be less brisk but you can extend the time and number of steps. If you take 6,000 steps on a brisk walk, take 9,000 on a calm one wandering around the mall.
- Take shorter walks
In case you don’t have time for a non-stop 30 minutes walk a day, split it into 10-minute segments. It will give the same benefits, and you’ll see how simple it is to find time for walking.
How do I make walking more fun?
Walking without certain goals leads you to no results. Set goals daily, weekly, and monthly to watch your progress . The Centers for Disease Control point out that a fitness band helps people see how much progress they’ve achieved in steps and exercise more often. Just set your daily goal according to your abilities, but not less than 5000 steps. A grownup person should make from 5,000 to 10,000 daily steps according to the WHO. Also set goals for other indicators: calories burned per hour, heartbeat, blood pressure.
Start a blog or a diary
Just walking is not enough. Try to analyze the process: write down your weekly results, compare them to the previous week, and see if you’re making any progress or not, and why. Share your results online or keep them privately in a paper notebook — it’s up to you. The point is that reflection helps us realize what exactly is good for us and why. Writing will help you pay attention to details: what outfit you wear, whether you show better time results in the mornings or in the evenings, what music you listen while walking, etc.
Meditate on the go
Huffpost published an article by Dharma Master Hwansan Sunim, who is a graduate of Harvard University. He explains how being in motion enhances the perception of our feelings. We notice the singing of birds, noise of traffic, gusts of wind, warmth of the sun — things that usually fall out of our lives. But there’s a difference between brisk walking and walking meditation.
The latter requires a moderate speed. Otherwise, it’ll be hard to concentrate on your body and surroundings while walking. Experts from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, say that during walking meditation you should concentrate on every movement of your feet and legs. For better concentration they recommend you take pauses and breathe. You can’t call it a brisk walking.
Another specialist in walking meditation, Tara Brach, PhD in Clinical Psychology from Fielding Institute, advises starting at a slower pace than you walk in daily life and paying particular attention to sensations in your feet. Walking meditation should make you feel relaxed, not exhausted.
Take part in a competition or marathon
There are usually some walking events going on in every city. If you live in the suburbs or in the country you may organize one by yourself. Challenges make people competitive and playful. It’s a good way to shake yourself from your daily routine and change your lifestyle by testing your endurance and stamina.
Find a walking friend
Don’t walk alone. The best way to stay motivated is to find somebody who loves walking too. Walking in a company adds a competitive element to your excursions. You’ll be able to set common goals and sync schedules for more discipline. Watching your friend getting slimmer will urge you to be unstoppable. Also, an evening walk with a friend is more secure than a lonely one.
To find a walking buddy try these apps out:
- Viewranger — allows you to access free Open Street Maps for the whole world. You can also record your routes and waypoints. There’s a BuddyBeacon function which allows to share your position with others using the app and see where they are. Download: for iOS, for Android.
- World Walking — the app allows to see a walking groups near you, create virtual walking clubs, invite friends, and set joint goals. Download: for iOS, for Android.
Should I warm up before walking?
- Stretches before walking
In its walking guidelines, the American Heart Association recommend warming up for 5–10 minutes until you feel your muscles get warm and then stretching slowly for 5–7 minutes before you begin walking. The Arthritis Foundation also notes that stretching after walking helps to reduce the pain in muscles and keep your joints healthy. Here are three simple stretching exercises.
- Simple lunges
Lunge onto one leg while keeping the other leg behind, reach a down point and hold 15–20 seconds. Change legs.
- Inner thigh stretch
Lie down and, keeping your body upright, lunge to one side with a bent knee over the toe. Keep the other leg straight. Stretch the inner thigh of your straight leg by pushing your weight to the right. Hold 20–30 seconds and repeat to the left.
- Calf stretches
Rest against the wall by putting both hands on it. Position one foot forward with knee bent and stretch the other leg back. Keep your toes pointed at the wall. Make a move as if you are pushing the wall toward until you feel a stretch in the lower part of the back leg. Hold 20–30 seconds on each leg.
- Hamstring Stretch
Prop one foot up on a low, secure bench or stair step. Stand tall. Keeping your chest high, hips square, and tailbone lifted, bend forward from your hips. Feel a stretch in the back of your thigh or knee. Hold 20–30 seconds on each leg.
- Hydrate yourself
Drink at least two glasses of water before a workout. It helps the heart pump blood through to the muscles, so they work more efficiently. Kathleen Zelman, a director of nutrition for WebMD, recommends to drink 4–6 ounces of water every 15–20 minutes before, during and after walking to keep your body well-hydrated. For one hour walking or longer take a bottle of water with you to avoid dehydration.
What to wear for walking?
Put on synthetic fiber clothes that don’t soak moisture. The main rule in picking the right clothes for walking is to adapt to weather.
- Hot weather
Warming up in hot weather is dangerous. That’s why during summer workouts it’s necessary to stay cool and protect your skin with sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat or a cap. Wear a light-colored T-shirt or hoodie to reflect the sunlight. To avoid a heat stroke, take a bottle of water and slow down for the first days to get used to the heat.
- Cold weather
For walking in winter and other cold months always dress in layers. And as the weather changes remove or add layers. The one that contacts your body should be made of fiber material to keep moisture away from the skin. Cotton clothes won’t work as it sticks to the body and cools it down when you sweat.
As a middle layer put on a microfiber fleece or wool as it keeps the warm even when it gets wet. The outer layer should be waterproof to protect you from snow, rain and wind. Use jackets with hoods to stay dry and not to trouble yourself with an umbrella.
To protect your head and neck from the cold, put on a hat and a scarf. Fingers are the first things to get frozen — wear mittens. They bunch all the fingers together allowing them to keep warmer than in gloves. Keep warm but don’t overdress to prevent sweating inside your jacket and feeling chilly after 10–15 minutes of a brisk walk.
- Rainy weather
On rainy days steer clear of the slippery streets, walk at the gym, go shopping for the whole day, and make your daily step count indoors. Choose lighter colors to be more visible to drivers at dawn and dusk. Orange and yellow jackets are the best choice. Some running shoes already have reflective stripes for your safety.
Use athletic, running, and casual multi-purpose shoes. To pick the right shoes follow a short guide by American Heart Association:
- Shoes should be supportive and well-fitting with a padded tongue, a heel pad, and moisture-resistant insole.
- The upper part of the shoes should be light, flexible and easy to bend. The textile has to be thin and breathable, but also strong to endure strain.
- The sole should be shock-absorbent and cushioned. It also has to be twice thicker at the heel than at the front.
- Leave ½ inch between your tip toes and the shoe. It’ll help to avoid blisters.
- Use synthetic fiber, acrylic or polypropylene socks to prevent blistering your feet. Synthetic socks also let your sweat out and keep your feet dry.
- Basketball shoes and soccer cleats won’t work. They have poor cushioning and cost a lot.
- Shoes shouldn’t be stiff and over-supportive, as this may cause a muscle imbalance and supination of the feet.
- Don’t look at the brands and style. High cost doesn’t guarantee quality. Choose shoes in a middle price range and look at the comfort and fit first.
- Don’t choose cotton socks, as they absorb moisture and increase friction.
Check out a list of walking shoes recommended by the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.
A discomfort in my feet while walking
A National Walkers Health study proves that walking is the only low-impact exercise that allows us to avoid traumas and to get healthier at the same time. But if you feel discomfort or pain, follow the guide approved by the American Heart Association:
- Stop and sit down. Have some rest and let your muscles relax until they return to their normal condition.
- Apply an ice bag on the injury for not more than 20 minutes. Ice is a natural anesthetic — it prevents swelling and bruises. Instead of ice you may use a bag of any frozen product, such as peas or kidney beans. Place a wet cloth or towel between ice pack and your skin.
- Wrap the injured part with a tight sterile bandage. This can help prevent swelling. If you damaged some part of the leg, sit or lie down and lift up your leg to heart level. It helps to reduce swelling too.
- See a doctor after you’ve applied first aid.
What you should learn about walking
- Walking decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke, type-2 diabetes, cancer, dementia, osteoporosis, arthritis.
- Walking trains your heart and body as well as running and working out with weights.
- Walking improves thinking processes and creativity, clears the mind, and improves our mood.
- Walking is natural. It doesn’t require any special skills.
- Walking is universal. You can do it anywhere: outside, at the gym, at the park, at home.
- Walking is cheap. You don’t have to buy an expensive equipment to start walking. Get a light-colored sport costume and a pair of mid-priced running shoes and you’re set to go.
- Walking doesn’t take much time as other exercises. All you need is 30 minutes a day.
Walking is simple, free, and one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier. Now get up and walk to your health!