People who walk regularly swear by the health and psychological benefits of their daily jaunt. Here, wellness expert Michael Roizen, MD, gives five reasons why they’re right.
1. Walking reduces stress, cheers you up and increases self-esteem
If you’ve ever gone out for a walk after a stressful situation and come back more calm and collected, you know firsthand how walking is a positive way to cope with stressful events. And these days it seems there are plenty of those.
As you already know, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about additional levels of stress triggers in our lives. We’re not only juggling multiple roles at home and the associated time constraints that places on us, we’re also worried about ourselves and our families becoming ill, plus dealing with economic and emotional issues. Walking can help. It gets your heart rate up, brings your stress level down, and reduces your chances of developing further illnesses like stroke, broken heart syndrome, or cardiomyopathy, Dr. Roizen says.
Studies confirm that walking benefits your mood, by releasing your body’s natural happy drugs — endorphins. “And you’ll be proud at the end of each walk by setting small goals to get moving and accomplishing them, all the while increasing your self-esteem,” he says.
2. You can lose weight by walking just 30 minutes a day
Walking is also one of the best exercises for losing weight — it’s relatively easy to do, easy on the joints, it’s free and you have to do it every day anyway.
To start walking for fitness, try to begin with a 20-minute walk every day. “If that’s too much, start smaller,” Dr. Roizen says. “But do set a goal of building to 30 minutes a day, every day.”
Once you’ve mastered that, take your time increasing to a higher level. Never increase more than 10% more any one day than your maximum the prior week.
When you’re ready, increase your goal to 10,000 steps a day (a pedometer will help — see item #4).
3. Regular walking lowers blood pressure, improves sleep and energizes you
It’s been proven that regular walkers have fewer heart attacks and strokes, lower blood pressure and higher levels of HDL (healthy cholesterol) than non-exercisers.
Walking can lower blood pressure and LDL (your bad cholesterol), decrease the risk of many cancers and improve immune system function. Plus, Dr. Roizen adds, it improves the quality of your sleep and keeps you energized when you’re awake.
4. Walks are more fun with a pedometer and a pal
Tracking your steps with an app that features a pedometer is key to walking success, Dr. Roizen says. People who love their apps or pedometers log a reported 2,000 more steps per day. Why? The reward comes from witnessing your success in real time, and enjoying the mental reward of celebrating your step-based accomplishments.
“To make your workout feel easier too, ask someone to join you for a socially distanced walking session — especially as we’re spending more and more time alone at home,” Dr. Roizen suggests. “Walking together offers many positives for our collective mental health.”
It significantly reduces the loneliness and isolation that comes with pandemic life. It’s a good solve for not being able to do things we used to be able to do. And when you’re walking with buddy, you’re bound to enjoy your workout more psychologically by talking, connecting and sharing an experience. Not to mention that sharing a walk makes you focus less on the physical exertion as you chat with your walking partner, he says.
5. People experience a major dip in snack cravings during and after a 15-minute walk
Cravings, in general, are usually bad news for people trying to lose weight. Craved-for foods tend to be calorie-dense, fatty or sugary, with chocolate topping that list.
But recent findings from the University of Exeter show that walking can curtail the hankering for sugar, both during the walk and for about 10 minutes afterward. Researchers’ findings suggest walking ultimately helps people lose weight not only by getting your heart and metabolism up but also by curbing those cravings for sugary snacks, like chocolate. By taking a short walk, the study found people are able to regulate their daily sugary treats intake — often by as much as half.
“As you can see, only good things come from walking,” Dr. Roizen says. “And when you find an activity that has this many benefits, you should really keep moving forward with it.”