Walking is something we do, often, without giving it a second thought. Did you know that it is a super easy and no-cost way to improve both your mind and body?
Today we will dive into the science behind walking! I will go through the real-life evidence and benefits in a way that is easy to read.
You’ll discover how walking is worthwhile for your heart, improving your mood and even making you smarter! The next time you slip into your sneakers, you will be feeling super motivated to better your health.
Ready to get started on this journey together, towards better well-being? Read on about the simple science of walking!
The Basics of Walking
Before we get into the science, let's start with the basics. Walking is a natural way for us to get around. It all began about five million years ago when our ancestors began to walk on two legs. Really, it is since the beginning of time that walking is very much a part of us.
It's in Our Genes
Scientists have hypothesized several competitive and evolutionary benefits of walking. Apparently, being on two limbs frees up our hands to perform another task simultaneously (like checking your phone messages). It also gives us a height advantage for perceiving nearby threats (like that incoming cyclist on headphones).
Walking is very much ingrained in our history. So it makes perfect sense to understand, cultivate, and use it to our advantage.
We won’t get too dragged into the history and scientific definitions. For our purposes, we can be flexible with any form of walking, including brisk walking, hillwalking, dog walking, or even walking on a treadmill. For this article, we are focusing on the health benefits of walking.
The Physical Benefits of Walking
Now, let's get into the juicy stuff—the physical benefits of walking. 🚶♂️
1. Cardiovascular Health
Walking gets your heart pumping and your blood flowing. It's a fantastic way to improve your cardiovascular health.
Scientists have observed a 19% reduction in the risk of developing heart disease in those who walk an average of half an hour daily.
Even in those who already have heart disease, regular walking can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by up to 39%.
Regular walks can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Plus, it helps maintain a healthy weight, reducing the strain on your heart.
2. Weight Management
Looking for a way to get ahead on that New Year's resolution of losing weight? Walking is a quick and easy one to pick up.
Researchers have found that:
walking more (adding an average of 3500-4000 steps a day), helps lose up to 1lb of weight over a week. That’s 5lbs over a year.
Don’t overthink it or stress about going on a full-blown workout and get started today. Keep track of these with some recommended pedometers (pending link).
3. Strong Muscles and Joints
Walking engages various muscle groups, from your calves to your core. As a principle, strengthening muscles is able to support your joints better.
By scanning the content within muscles, researchers have found that regular walking can strengthen muscles by up to 12%. They saw that there was a reduced amount of fat within the muscles of the legs and a real-life increase in physical performance.
It's low-impact, making it easy on your joints. So, if you're not a fan of high-impact exercises, walking is your friend.
4. Better Sleep
Struggling with sleep? Walking can be therapeutic for your sleep patterns.
An experiment found that walking can significantly reduce insomnia, and disordered sleep-wake schedules; plus, it helps with the initiation and maintenance of sleep (by up to 40%).
A pleasant evening stroll can signal to your body that it's time to wind down.
Andrew Huberman, who is a Stanford neuroscientist and expert in sleep, recommends 30-60 minutes of sun exposure in the evening before sleeping.
5. Enhanced Immune System
Walking can boost your immune system. With all the above physical benefits combined, an active body is better prepared to deal with any illnesses.
I found it incredible that regular walking can actually half the number of colds, and even half the duration of symptoms even if a cold sets in. However, bear in mind that overdoing it can in fact increase the risk of getting ill.
So, what more are you waiting for? Check out this article on tips to get your feet moving!
The Mental Benefits of Walking
Now, let's shift our focus to the mind. Walking isn't just a physical activity; it's a mental one too.
1. Stress Reduction
Ever notice how a walk can clear your mind? It's not just in your head (well, technically, it is). Walking reduces the production of stress hormones, helping you feel more relaxed.
Here's the proof. In a study involving over 4700 adults, who walk between 3-6 hours a week, scientists have seen improved perception on their: stress levels, feeling less anxious, more calm, more hopeful, more energetic, and more self-worth.
2. Creative Boost
Stuck on a problem or need a burst of creativity? Go for a walk. Many great thinkers, like Steve Jobs, were known for their walking meetings. It's a proven way to get those creative juices flowing.
There is probably something in just letting your mind wander while your body is taking a walk. I believe there is a subconscious processing of ideas when your body is on the go.
3. Mood Elevation
Walking triggers the release of endorphins, those wonderful feel-good hormones. It's a natural mood lifter.
I’m feeling rather optimistic about my next walk!
Tips for Effective Walking
Now that we're sold on the science-backed benefits of walking, let's talk about how to make the most of your strolls.
I have put my personal recommendations for making walking fun. Step into those top tips here. For myself, I love adding tech to make things fun and to automate the boring tasks of logging.
More intriguing benefits of walking that you might not know!
Money is what makes the world go round, so we can’t ignore this one. A successful walking program in the US has been measured to save about $50,000 per year in healthcare costs. This applies especially to people who are inactive or have mobility issues due to joint pain.
There are also hidden savings on transportation that would add up over time. Estimated individual fuel savings is £40 (US$50) annually for just walking a single mile every week. You could put these costs to good use for a self-treat on Christmas!
Getting in that sunshine on your skin helps improve your vitamin D levels. This is not only great for your bones. There are long-term benefits in preventing osteoporosis (brittle bones) in older age and reducing the impact of accidental falls.
Sustainability and carbon emissions
One of the often overlooked aspects, though is gaining traction. Reduce up to 29kg of CO2 within the atmosphere annually just by walking a mile weekly.
Hiking or Walking? What People Name It Around The Globe?
Just plain ‘walking’ in the UK - covers a wide variety of walking, ranging everything from urban walking to walking for leisure and hikes into the steep heights of the Old Man of Storr of Skye. Local slang, can also be called rambling (meaning roaming). I particularly like ‘fellwalking’ - involving walking through fell, which is elevated land that is relatively barren. Sounds so sick, just like a trek in the Lord of Rings.
Hiking - commonly used in the US to cover longer treks in nature. Can include forests, mountaineering and crossing rivers. Also used in Canada, Norway and many other countries.
Bushwalking - Used in Australia and New Zealand. Usually involves hiking and may include backpacking in the outbacks. The outdoors in Australia has an iconic semi-arid, sparse, dry yet green forest which is called the ‘bush’. Bushwalking offers walkers a unique experience, along with the opportunity to experience special wildlife (marsupials, wombats, spiders, etc).
Tramping in New Zealand - Originating from the 1920s, where men were returning to New Zealand from the war were finding solace from stomping around in the wilderness. It is local terminology for ‘stepping loudly’ and is apparently a rather fond term among Kiwis.
Friluftsliv in Norway - a general term for participating in outdoor activities, with a sense of connecting to nature for reducing stress. It is not only specific to hiking but various other outdoor activities (like hiking, skiing, etc).
Wrapping It Up and Getting Your Sneakers On
So, there you have it—walking, the simple yet powerful activity that can do wonders for your body and mind. It's an activity deeply rooted in our genes and backed by solid science.
Today we have covered the benefits of walking on different aspects, including:
- Cardiovascular health
- Weight management
- Improving muscles and joints
- Immune system
- Stress reduction
- Creative boost
- Mood elevation
- Cost savings
- Vitamin D
Remember, it's not about how fast you go; it's about the journey itself. So, lace up those sneakers, step outside, and let the science of walking work its magic on you.
Q: Is 10,000 steps the gold standard to achieve?
Here, I've written an article about it. Short answer, partly yes.
Bipedal evolution by National Library of Medicine
Weight loss meta-analysis in Annals of Family Medicine
Walking and cardiovascular mortality
Walking – the first steps in cardiovascular disease prevention
Effects of 10-week walking and walking with home-based resistance training on muscle quality, muscle size, and physical functional tests in healthy older individuals
The effect of daily walking exercise on sleep quality in healthy young adults
The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system
A Study of Leisure Walking Intensity Levels on Mental Health and Health Perception of Older Adults
Low Carbon Travel