The spartan activity of walking has so many powerful health benefits. Regular walking is a key to losing weight, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, boosting your memory, along with reducing your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.
The next time you have a medical check-up, don’t be surprised if your doctor hands you a prescription to walk. Yes, this simple activity that you’ve been doing since you were about a year old is now being touted (along with other forms of regular physical activity) as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” in the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Judging from the research, it’s a well-earned reputation according to a report from Harvard.
Walking can have a bigger impact on disease risk and various health conditions than just about any other remedy that’s readily available to you. What’s more, it’s free and has practically no negative side effects.
Walking for 2.5 hours a week—that’s just 21 minutes a day—can cut your risk of heart disease by 30%. In addition, this do-anywhere, no-equipment-required activity has also been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep you mentally sharp. In fact, according to some estimates, walking regularly could save Americans over $100 billion a year in health care costs. Even a quick one-minute jaunt pays off.
A University of Utah study in 2014 found that for every minute of brisk walking that women did throughout the day, they lowered their risk of obesity by 5%. No more “I don’t have time” excuses!
Start walking, and you’ll be helping to make your community stronger, too. Social scientists have found that as more people take to the streets, neighborhood crime rates fall and the local economy improves. It’s also a wonderful way to meet new people and connect with neighbors. Take a walk with your children after dinner. It can promote better communication, reduce behavior problems, and improve academic performance.
Walking can even help your mood. Several studies have found that it’s as effective as drugs for decreasing depression. It can help relieve everyday stresses, too. Tension starts to ease as the road stretches out in front of you. Mood-elevating endorphin levels increase. Many people and that walking help clear the mind, too—you may even and the solution to a problem that’s been bugging you.
So don’t wait for your next doctor’s appointment to get inspired. Put on your shoes, step out the door, and rediscover the joys of walking.
Of course, you probably know that any physical activity, including walking, is a boon to your overall health. But walking in particular comes with a host of benefits. Here's a list of five that may surprise you.
1. It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes. Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much these genes contribute to body weight. They then discovered that the effects of those genes were cut in half among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day.
2. It helps tame a sweet tooth. A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb chocolate cravings and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations. And the latest research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks.
3. It reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers already know that any kind of physical activity blunts the risk of breast cancer. But an American Cancer Society study that zeroed in on walking found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. And walking provided this protection even for women with breast cancer risk factors, such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.
4. It eases joint pain. Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
5. It boosts immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.
(with inputs from Harvard Health Publishing)