There are an overwhelming number of recommendations for the best way to “stay fit.” Between HIIT cardio, pilates, resistance training, running, yoga, and more, finding a form of movement that works best for you can feel overwhelming. If you feel overloaded with fitness information and don’t know where to start, walking may be your answer. Walking has numerous benefits for physical and mental health that can be achieved in just a few moderate walks per week. You don’t need equipment or a gym membership, or even much time, to see some of the many potential benefits of walking. Keep reading to learn more about some of the many reasons why walking can be the right form of exercise for you!
Walking After Eating
Walking after eating can be helpful in many ways, such as improving digestion and reducing the risk of certain diseases:
Speed up digestion: Walking can help with digestion by stimulating components of the GI tract. A short walk after a meal can help you digest food more quickly. In addition, many people suffer from bloating after mealtime. When foods are broken down in the stomach, gas is usually produced. Walking can help remove some excess gas and reduce discomfort and symptoms caused by bloating.
Stabilize blood sugar: A walk right after a meal can also have some positive blood sugar benefits. Studies have shown that those who walk after a meal experience more gradual increases and decreases in blood sugar and more stable insulin levels. This can help with the “crash” that most of us feel after meal time, in addition to the incredible long-term benefit of reducing our risk for the development of diabetes. For those with diabetes, this can be a great tool to help you maintain your blood sugar.
Reduce your blood pressure: One study found that three ten-minute daily walks can help lower diastolic blood pressure. Using meal times as a reminder to take a 10-minute walk can be a great way to structure your physical activity and reduce your risk for heart disease!
Mood Boosting Benefits
Walking can have a positive impact on mental health in various ways. Some studies have shown walking to have a protective effect on the development of depression and can even potentially help treat symptoms of depression. In addition, consistent walking may help reduce anxiety and increase psychological and subjective well-being. Although walking in any form can be beneficial, walking outside can have increased positive effects on mood compared to walking inside, such as on a treadmill. The additional benefits of a nature walk can be due to sun exposure or more significant increases in heart rate, as walking outside can be more challenging for various reasons, such as outdoor temperature or terrain. Another bonus is that simply being exposed to nature may improve mental well-being. Walking is also a great social activity! Stepping outside into the sunshine and immersing in nature while getting in some steps with a friend can have amazing benefits for you (and your friendship!)!
Improve Your Overall Fitness Levels
People typically view walking as less beneficial when compared to other workouts, but it is a very underrated form of exercise! If you don’t have time for other forms of exercise, walking is usually a much easier way to squeeze physical activity into your day in small bursts. Again, some walking is better than no physical activity at all! Here are some ways walking can get you in better shape:
Increasing Cardiovascular fitness and endurance: Consistently walking at a pace that elevates your heart rate will improve overall cardiovascular fitness and endurance over time!
Strength improvements: Walking helps strengthen muscles in various body parts. These effects are mostly seen in lower body muscles, but walking can also target core and back muscles!
Balance and Coordination: Walking can help refine our sense of balance, and strengthening muscles in the lower body also assists with balance.
Plant-Based Eating and Walking
People who follow a plant-based diet may be at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency because it is mostly found in animal sources. Vitamin D is important for bone health, immune function, blood pressure, and more. Did you know getting around 10 to 30 sunshine just a few times per week can help you meet your vitamin D needs? This is great news for plant-based eaters. Getting outside for a walk can help you meet these needs while getting in your daily exercise!
Walking and Women’s Health
Aerobic exercise, such as walking, can help with a variety of PMS symptoms such as:
Cramps: Walking causes your body to release endorphins, AKA the “feel good hormones,” which then causes the body to produce internal pain relievers called analgesics to reduce the pain and discomfort caused by period cramps.
Pain and discomfort experienced in the back and abdomen areas: Those endorphins really help!
Breast tenderness: One study found that those who did aerobic exercise had less breast swelling than those who did not. Therefore, walking may help mitigate breast pain!
Irritability and feelings of depression/anxiety: Walking helps reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, which may be exacerbated during your period. One study showed that regular exercise helped boost confidence and increase positive thinking. In addition, walking and aerobic exercise cause a release of endorphins and a drop in cortisol levels.
Walking is also an excellent way to mitigate symptoms associated with menopause including:
It can be difficult to get up to go for a walk when you are experiencing symptoms related to PMS and menopause, which is why making walking a habit can be very important. Read below for some tips to make walking an enjoyable daily habit!
Tips to Help You Start Your Walking Journey
Start small: If you have a busy schedule and find it hard to make time for physical activity, walking can be a great place to start because it can be easier to squeeze into a hectic day. Start with 5-10 minute walks and slowly work your way up. Even if you cannot increase your time, that is okay! Any form of physical activity is better than none, and benefits can still be seen with a few short walks a week. If you get a lunch break during the day, take a lap around the parking lot after you are done eating or walk for a few minutes after dinner.
Walk with friends: Having an accountability partner, or even a few, can be a great way to help you maintain your walking schedule. Walking can help you maximize your time by exercising while keeping up with friends.
Find a route that works for you: You may not know where to start, which is okay! Try a few different settings, such as in a park, on a trail, or even in the city. Some people prefer people-watching while they walk, and others like to get out in nature. Either option is excellent, so find what brings you joy.
Podcasts and Music: If you are worried you may feel bored on your walk, find something to listen to that makes the walk more enjoyable. Podcasts are a great way for me to walk for 45 minutes to an hour without realizing it! It almost feels like I am with a friend.
Do you consider yourself a walker? If so, what do you love about it? And, if you don’t currently walk, how might you incorporate it into your daily routine? Share below!
Hello everyone! My name is Darian Williams, and I am a Graduate Nutrition student at Georgia State University. Regarding nutrition, some of my interests include women's health, diabetes care, and intuitive eating, and I hope to work with these topics in my future practice. In addition, I love spending time outdoors, hanging out with my family and dogs, and reading.