How a Daily Walk Improves Your Health
You put one foot in front of the other. And then you keep going. It seems so simple, and yet some of the country’s top health experts have labeled walking one of the most perfect exercises. It’s easy, can be done pretty much anytime and anywhere, and is affordable because it requires no equipment beyond a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes.
These days, people are finding all kinds of ways to take the basic act of walking and customize it into part of their routine for a healthy lifestyle. Some pair up with family or friends for an evening walk around their neighborhood, nearest trail or downtown area. Others add Nordic-style walking poles to amp up their effort and turn a daily walk into a real cardio workout. Still others prefer to log their miles by walking on a treadmill at home or at their gym.
There’s no one right way to approach adding – or expanding – daily walks as part of your exercise time. That’s the great thing about it. You can adapt this movement to fit your schedule. And however you choose to embrace it, the health benefits will follow.
Why daily walks are good for your health. In its “Walking for Health” guide, Harvard Medical School staff heaps so much praise on this form of exercise. For those who walk regularly, they say it can be the ticket to not only drop pounds, but lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, risk of heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. It also can play a role in improving your memory as you age.
The well-known medical school shared some impressive numbers about what walking can do for your health. The biggest plus was that brisk walking for just 20 minutes a day can cut a person’s risk of heart disease by 30%. It also cited a study that showed for every minute of brisk walking women regularly did throughout a day, their risk of becoming obese dropped by 5%.
Walking outside puts you in a better mood. Walking as exercise anywhere – inside or outside – is good for your mood because we know that any exercise can release feel-good chemicals in your brain. But when you take your walking routine outside, there are more perks, including a decrease in body tension and time to really clear your mind, studies have shown. Fresh air and some Vitamin D-producing sunshine can be just what our bodies need each day.
A way to connect. Beyond the mood boost you get from being outside, walking on sidewalks, in parks or along trails is a great way to connect with others. Seeing other people gives you a sense of community, a benefit that we know has become especially important after a COVID-19 era marked by shut-downs and quarantines. Even if you’re walking with a face covering on and staying 6 feet away from others, you can still wave and greet people as you do your daily walks. It gives you a sense of being part of something larger and a safe, socially distant way to stay connected. It didn’t take long for people to pick up on this in the early months of the pandemic. Last year, Michigan’s state and national parks reported record numbers of people using outdoor facilities. So far this year, estimates show no signs of slowing. At many of these spots, walking was a key outside activity.
Photo credit: Getty