Walking. You’ve heard it’s healthy but what does it really do for you?
Does it help you lose weight? Does it lower your blood pressure?
Will you live longer?
We dove into the literature to bring you the best benefits of walking and what walking can do for you.
18 Benefits of Walking Daily
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Walking reduces blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes risk (1)
- Reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat, and body mass index (2)
- Lower body fat and BMI
- Reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat, and body mass index (3)
- Lower fasted blood sugar
- Walking reduces blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes risk (4)
- Post meal walking (3 x 15 minutes a day) is more effective for blood sugar control than daily long walks (45 minutes all at once) (5)
- Better memory and brain function
- Men – Reduced risk of dementia (6)
- Women – Better memory and cognitive function, Delay dementia – Women 65 and older were tested for cognitive decline over 6 years. Those that walk retained more cognitive function than those that walked less (7)
- Sedentary individuals that started either aerobic exercise and/or the DASH diet scored higher on cognitive tests meant to measure dementia. Those that did both had the best results. (8)
- 9 year olds and young adults were given memory tasks while using a treadmill at different paces. Their highest scores were achieved when walking at their chosen ideal pace compared to sitting or walking at other paces. (9)
- Brain scans showed those that walked 72 or more more blocks a week had more gray matter in their brain, the part used for higher cognitive functions, after 9 years. The mean age of the group was 78 years old. (10)
- Older adults had higher memory and executive function scores after 12 weeks of exercise and daily walking (11)
- Relieves Pain
- Relieves chronic pain and joint pain (12) , (13)
- Reduces pain from knee arthritis (14)
- Walking improves fitness without increasing knee pain (15)
- Prevent Illness / Boosts Immunity / Fight Disease
- Walking and aerobic exercise reduces symptoms and days of having a cold (16)
- Walking boost creativity during the walk and after (17)
- Boost energy
- Stair walking gives you more energy than caffeine (18)
- Reduce risk of heart disease
- Risk for CHD decreases as walking increases. Walking should be prescribed to reduce CHD risk (19)
- Faster paced walking lowered your risk of CVD death versus slower paced walking (20)
- Reverse Diabetes
- Walking reduces blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes risk (21)
- Interval training was compared to steady state exercise. Both reduced blood pressure and body fat. Interval training was more effective at reducing markers of metabolic syndrome. Benefits of interval training included stronger blood vessels, better insulin response in muscle, and lower blood sugar and fat accumulation in fat tissues (22)
- Small walks throughout the day improved blood flow and circulation (23)
- Those with diabetes 2 had lower risks of CVD, death due to CVD, and total mortability with increased physical activity (24)
- Increasing physical activity and walking reduces diabetes 2 risk in women (25) , (26)
- Reduce Stroke Risk
- For men, walking leads to reduced stroke risk. Walking 7 hours per week was the minimum effective dose for maximum gain. Walking slow or fast did not have an appreciable difference (27)
- This study came from the Nurse’s Health Study where women were followed for stroke incidence over 8 years. Women that walked had less risk of stroke than women that didn’t. Unlike the men in the above study, faster paced walking for women lowered stroke risk more than walking at a casual pace (28)
- Live Longer
- Walking or biking 11 hours a week reduced risk of death by 11% for all causes. This review of studies looked at over 280,000 individuals (29)
- A ten year study of the elderly (average age of 80) found that those that walked 4 times per week for at least 15 minutes each session had a 40% lowered risk of death compared to other individuals in the study that walked less (30)
- Walking at a risk pace lowered all cause death risk by 20% and CVD death risk by 24% (31)
- Having a higher VO2 max, a measure of aerobic fitness, led to longer telomere length for elderly endurance athletes. Telomeres have been studied for decades. They’re found on the end of your genes and protect them during cellular division. As you age, your telomeres grow shorter. (32)
- Improve Mood
- Exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and elevates the mood (33)
- Walking improves the mood even when you don’t feel like it or don’t expect it to (34)
- Walking beats candy bars for increasing energy and lowering tension (35)
- Walking in nature settings improves mood and reduces depressing thoughts more than walking in urban settings (36)
- Lower risk of breast cancer
- 7 hours a week walking per week lowered breast cancer risk by 14% in women past menopause (37)
- Better sleep
- Exercise increased total sleep time and the amount of deep sleep, though slightly lowered REM sleep (dream sleep) (38)
- Lower stress
- Walking in nature settings improves mood and reduces depressing thoughts more than walking in urban settings (39)
- Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart to resist stressors more than anaerobic exercise (40)
- Stronger bones
- A lifetime of walking was associated with higher bone mineral density in the hip and hip joints in the elderly (41)
- Protect your vision
- A study of mice found that mice undergoing regular exercise had 50% less vision loss when exposed to bright lights compared to sedentary mice (42)
The first goal of walking should be to simply walk daily. Even if only to walk around your house for 2 minutes.
Why such a weak first goal? To get the habit started.
You’ve probably heard of walking 10,000 steps a day. Try it and you may find you get quickly tired of the habit.
You may keep it up for a few weeks or even a month or two. Soon enough days will come where there’s just too much to do. Then, 10,000 steps a day is just too much.
Instead, start small and work up to it. Make sure there’s some form of immediate payoff.
For me I started 15 minute daily walks in the morning just to get outside. No matter the weather I did it. And on the worst days I felt the most alive.
It was a great way to start the morning. It was easy and always left me feeling more energized and creative.
These days I do 2-3 of those walks a day. I don’t always hit 10,000 steps but I get close.
Sure, you get the best results if you walk 15,000 steps a day. At that rate you can pretty much reverse metabolic syndrome. (43)
But you won’t always have time. So if you can’t do 15,000 do 1,000. That’s about 10 minutes of walking at a vigorous pace.
And don’t let the studies fool you. No matter what you do, if you add exercise you get results.
Intensity is not as key as total energy expenditure. A study of runners and walkers found equivalent reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes risk for both runners and walkers when the results were compared on calories burned. (44)
Again more walking is better. Another study found that walking 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week lowered cardiovascular heart disease (CHD) risk by 19%. (19) 30 minutes is just two 15 minutes walks a day – one in the morning and one after dinner.
Pick up the pace if you can. Faster paced walking lowered your risk of CHD death more compared to slower paced walking. (20)
Take Breaks to Walk
Want to really get that blood sugar under control? Try walking a little bit after each meal. This study found that meal walking was more effective for blood sugar control than the same amount of time walked once per day. (5)
Progress tracking is key. Why? It gives you quick wins.
When you start walking no one’s going to shout from the rooftops, “congratulations on your 5 minute walk buddy! You’re heard disease risk just dropped 0.0005%. Keep it up!”
No, instead you’ll need to find those wins for yourself. The best way to do that – keep tabs on what you do notice.
Free tracking options:
- Is it easier to climb stairs?
- Do you find yourself out of breath less?
- Do you spend less time trying to park close to your destination, not minding a longer walk for easier parking?
- Do you sleep longer?
- Do you wake up less at night?
- Are your clothes feeling more loose?
You get the idea. There are tons of ways to track your progress for free. Try some of the above or brainstorm your own.
Fitbits are great but you could also try the free fit apps that come with your phone.
For Android try Google Fit (nope this isn’t an affiliate link. No commission for me but you get paid in the wealth that’s health – booyah!). It’ll track your daily calorie burn based on your height and weight. Nothing’s better than watching Google Fit count the calories burned as you sit on the couch watching TV. Take that Cross Fit!
Google Fit tracks your daily movement just like a Fitbit. It uses the sensors in your phone. I’ve danced with my puppy, ran up the stairs, and tried all manner of simple movements. It logged them all. Calories, calories, calories – keep them burning!
Plus, when you hit milestones it let’s you know. It’s milestones are built on recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA). When you get that notification you hit your daily goals (which are crazy easy) – you are AHA approved for health.
Easy wins make those mini-habits addictive.
Warmup and Stretching
Walk slow, may that be your warmup…
That works for me but not for everyone.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve been active daily then a bit of stretching could help.
Here’s 4 simple warmup exercise to do before you walk.
How intense should you walk? Won’t you get a better burn if you walk faster?
What about power walking? I see people doing that all over the place. Wait, no I don’t. It’s not 1992 anymore.
Let your goals and your starting point set your intensity.
As mentioned above, you should start simple to develop the daily habit then grow from there.
Start with whatever is easy for you. Whether that’s a 10 minute slow stroll or a 20 minute HIIT walk and run, start where it feels easy.
Then build with time.
Yes, faster pace lowers your CHD risk more than a slower pace https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/12/761
Yes, faster pace lowers your stroke risk more than a slower pace – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10865274
But walking daily will do you more good than not walking at all. Don’t burn yourself out power walking.
Leave that to the professionals…
You’ve heard about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). You fall into one of two camps – you either hate them or you love them. But you know it works.
Studies have shown walking works no matter the pace. Some get more benefits with a faster pace. Some with less.
But why not do both.
In the study referenced above. Interval training, using both slow and fast paces during a walk, was better at reducing metabolic syndrome – stronger blood vessels, better insulin response in muscle, and lower blood sugar and fat accumulation in fat tissues. (22)
No need to hate adding intervals either. Make it fun. Do the minimum HIIT needed for you to get a bit out of breath but still enjoy it.
Try this – walk for 60 seconds, run for 10 seconds, and repeat.
Don’t like counting? No problem. Instead, walk for 3 blocks, run for one block and repeat.
Do either of the above along one of your regular walking routes.
You’ll finish faster, which is great – saves you time. Don’t go farther. Save some for tomorrow.
Let HIIT become part of a new habit. Something you sprinkle into your walks like salt. A little is great for flavor but too much just ruins the meal. Same thing with exercise – too much HIIT and you quit. Keep it fun and keep walking.
Want to add more power to the punch? Add hills. By using hills, even at the same walking pace you’ll inadvertently get a HIIT workout. A light one, but HIIT nonetheless.
You’ll also burn more calories per mile walked. So if you’ve got hills nearby give them a go.