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Back to the Basics: 5 Health Benefits of Walking

woman tying shoes to go for a walk in nature

It is no surprise that there are benefits to being physically active. Unfortunately, with our current circumstances, exercising in gyms or group fitness classes may not be feasible with social distancing recommendations. As a result, many of us may feel more prone to more sedentary lifestyles. However, this is also an especially important time to take care of our health! Luckily, going for walks is a great and accessible way to implement physical activity at this time. Walking outdoors is free, does not require a gym membership and follows social distancing recommendations.

High impact exercise such as running, skiing, weight training and gymnastics are more strenuous forms of physical activity and less likely to be performed regularly. Whereas walking is a low impact exercise that requires no specific skills or sophisticated pre-exercise evaluation. According to a meta-analysis conducted by PLoS ONE, individuals who walked as a form of physical activity had great adherence rates! Here are some of the health benefits of walking:

1. Improves Biomarkers of Health. Walking has been shown to significantly help lower and stabilize blood sugars in individuals with Type 2 Diabetes who started walking regularly. Additionally, walking lowers diastolic blood pressure among walkers compared to non-walking groups. This in part due to how walking helps release anxiety accumulated from the day. By decreasing anxiety you are also reducing or eliminating one of the common sources of high blood pressure.

2. Weight Management. Walking and other forms of moderate physical activity can significantly reduce body mass index (BMI) by promoting weight loss. By being physically active, individuals have a greater energy expenditure and burn more body fat.

3. Promotes Flexibility and Balance. Physical inactivity may lead to loss of flexibility, balance and coordination, which can increase the risk of falls. Additionally, it can lead to sarcopenia or loss of skeletal muscle with age. Developing a regular walking routine can help to keep your physical body healthy with age.

4. Cancer Prevention. Walking and other forms of moderate physical activity help to reduce the risk for certain cancers. There is a strong association between high vs. low physical activity levels and reduced risk for cancers such as bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer and stomach cancer among others. It is important to note these were observational studies, which do not prove a causal relationship, but provide enough data to make more general recommendations.

5. Boosts Mental Health. Who couldn't use a little mood boost? Walking has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety levels and is especially effective at doing this when walking in nature. Even if there is not an accessible nature trail nearby, getting fresh air outside while tuning into your favorite songs or podcasts is a sure way to provide a nice mental break from your day while you get some physical activity.

Interested in walking more? Here are some ways you can start adding more steps to your routine:

1. Start with small achievable goals. In that same meta-analysis conducted by PLoS ONE, the recommended time range for walking varied from 20-120 minutes, but every walking minute counts. By starting with 20 minutes a day, you can start building up your stamina and you’ll soon be incorporating longer walks into your routine!

2. Schedule it in. The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. This could look like 30 minutes of walking, five times per week or 45 minutes three times per week. Find what aligns with your schedule, mark the calendar, and set reminders to get out there and walk! This can help you find what best works for you so you're more likely to stick to it.

3. Make it fun and social. Call a friend and use the opportunity to walk and talk. Bringing in this social aspect to physical activity can make it more enjoyable and provide a time for you to connect regularly with others. Text your friends and see if they want to be more physically active too. You can challenge each other to go further and hold each other accountable.

4. Sneak it in during your workday. When possible, have “on-the-go” meetings with your coworkers or schedule a walk during your lunch break. If you are at home, take your phone calls while walking or take a break to get a few laps in outside.

5. Can you go further? Park further away when you do your grocery shopping, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or simply have a 2 minute longer bathroom break to go to a bathroom further away.

With all the form of exercises out there, don't forget about one of the most basic yet effective ones: walking.

Learn more about physical activity and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.

Written by: Maria Perez, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern



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