Mental and physical benefits of walking: Even better than you expected.

No one doubts the mental and physical benefits of walking and other forms of moderate exercise. There have been countless studies since the early 90s that validate the common knowledge… walking is good for you. Way better than sitting at your desk or in front of the TV.

In the UK there’s a charity that promotes walking for health, pleasure and happiness. The Ramblers put on organized walks and work to protect and improve the places where people like to walk. Their team has done extensive research on the health benefits of walking. Here’s what they publicly promote:

mental and physical benefits of walking in a good pair of walking shoesThere are way more than just 10 great reasons to go for a walk.

Regular brisk walking will:

  • Improve performance of the heart, lungs and circulation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes – inactive and unfit people have double the risk of dying from CHD

Walking regularly at any speed will:

  • Help manage weight.
  • Reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of certain cancers such colon, breast and lung cancer
  • Improve flexibility and strength of joints, muscles and bones, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Increase “good” cholesterol
  • Boost the immune system
  • Improve mood, reduce anxiety, aid sleep and improve self-image

Managing and recovering from health problems

Walking can help you manage and recover from certain long term conditions (as part of a care plan supervised by your doctor). Many patients recovering from heart problems find walking is a good way to recover their strength gently and gradually. Walking can help manage the side effects of cancer treatment and even prevent certain cancers recurring.

Mental health benefits of walking

Walking improves well being and helps fight stress and depression

  • Walking, like other physical activities, releases endorphins which improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety
  • Feeling fitter and controlling weight helps improve your body image and confidence
  • Active people have a reduced risk of suffering clinical depression
  • Walking in a group is a sociable activity that can help improve mental health and overcome feelings of isolation
  • Spending time in the outdoors and in contact with the natural environment – for example by walking in parks, woodland and green spaces – can have a positive effect on mental health

Walking and everyday life

For most people, walking is the easiest way to meet physical activity recommendations. Walking is:

  • Free and requires no special equipment, training or gym or club memberships.
  • Available to almost everyone
  • Safe and low-impact, with a low risk of injuries and accidents.
  • Easy to start slowly and build up gradually

It’s also one of the easiest activities to fit into your everyday life:

  • You can walk from your doorstep at a time that suits you
  • You can use walking for everyday short journeys
  • You don’t need to concentrate on the walking itself, leaving you free to enjoy your surroundings, chat to friends and family or just relax.
  • You can enjoy a variety of surroundings as you walk in different places and different seasons

The American Heart Association states that walking can reduce the risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. It can also alleviate high blood pressure and improve blood sugar levels. Taking a brisk walk every day can contribute to your overall fitness by burning calories, improving muscle strength and tone and working your cardiovascular system. Wellness can be positively effected, since walking releases endorphins that improve your mood and helps increase concentration levels. Because of its low impact, walking is one of the safest forms of physical activity, according to the American Association of Retired Persons, and it may also contribute to helping reduce abdominal fat.

University College London performed a meta-analysis of research published between 1970 and 2007 in peer-reviewed English-language journals. After sifting through 4,295 articles, they identified 18 studies that concluded:

You don’t have to go hard to gain tremendous benefits from walking, particularly if you’re over 50.

Here’s another good link to an article on Little Things that outlines the mental and physical benefits of walking.

Walking for Health and Fitness

JAMA. 1988;259(18):2720-2724. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720180046031

Recent studies have linked regular physical activity with reduced likelihood of developing coronary heart disease. Even low- and moderate-intensity exercise such as walking, when carried out consistently, is associated with important cardiovascular health benefits. Walking has also been shown to reduce anxiety and tension and aid in weight loss. Regular walking may help improve cholesterol profile, help control hypertension, and slow the process of osteoporosis. Recent physiological studies have demonstrated that brisk walking provides strenuous enough exercise for cardiovascular training in most adults. A recently developed submaximal 1-mile walk test provides a simple and accurate means for estimating aerobic capacity and guiding exercise prescription. These new insights and tools will assist the clinician in the prescription of safe and effective walking programs.

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