10 Benefits of Walking and Low-Impact Exercise
Walking is often overlooked as an effective form of exercise. Sure, it’s not as intense as running. And no, it doesn’t have the same bragging rights as doing a 6 a.m. hot yoga class.
But walking has plenty of full-body benefits. It burns calories, improves heart health, and being outdoors can give you much-needed hits of vitamin D and mood-boosting endorphins in equal measure.
Here are ten reasons you should consider making walking part of your fitness routine.
1. Walking is a form of cardio
Walking is a free, low-impact exercise to improve your cardiovascular health. If you want to lose weight and start walking for weight loss, it’s OK to begin slowly. Once you’ve gotten comfortable walking longer distances, try to complete a mile or kilometer faster than the previous week and then faster than the average walker (15-20 minutes per mile and 10-12 minutes per km).
As you pick up the pace, you’ll get aerobic exercise. You can also alternate periods of brisk walking with slower walking, called intervals. These are great for cardiovascular fitness and burn more calories than regular walking.
2. Strengthens leg muscles – and more
Walking can be an excellent way to mix up your routine for those at risk of plateauing. Walking works various lower body muscle groups: your quadriceps, glutes, calves, and ankles. Adding resistance is even better. Walking uphill or increasing the incline during your treadmill workout – particularly at a 3-degree incline or higher – increases the activation of these muscle groups, especially the glutes.
You may be surprised to learn that your back muscles are getting in on the action, as they support your torso and stabilize your pelvis to help you stay upright. As a bonus, you can also activate, or engage, your core muscles while you walk by drawing the navel inwards.
3. Boosts your immune system
If recent times have taught us anything, it’s that our health is paramount. Now that the pace of life is picking up again and we’re socializing more, it’s essential to keep our immune systems iron-clad all year round.
Did you know walking for exercise could help beat the common cold? One study showed that men and women who walked 20 minutes a day, at least five days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who only exercised once a week or not at all.(1)
Regular exercise allows older people to develop more T-cells than people their age who are more sedentary.(2)
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to power-walk your way to peak health. Being consistent and moderate with exercise allows your body to recover from illness and build immunity quicker than over-exercising, and walking is a great way to achieve this.
4. It’s perfect for goal-setting
Whether you are walking for weight loss, to cover 8,000 steps a day, or aim to progress into running, walking is a great way to stay on top of your goals.
Saying you plan to “walk every day” or “walk to lose weight” isn’t always enough. The best way to achieve better health through walking is to be SMART: have specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound goals.
For example, if your goal is to walk daily, then set a SMART goal plan:
- Specific: Walk every day
- Measurable: Use the goal feature on adidas Running and use the app to track your sessions
- Achievable/Attainable: Walk 30 minutes a day after work
- Realistic: To start, walk for 10-15 minutes each day when you get home from work. Aim to increase your duration after one month.
- Time-bound: Reach 30 minutes per session by the fourth week. Walk every evening from 6-7 pm.
As you gain confidence in your progress, reconfigure your goals over time to add a longer duration, do a certain number of steps or run a 5k. Baby steps!
5. Makes you feel good
Walking in nature helps boost your mood by increasing blood flow and blood circulation to the brain and body. When you exercise, you’re reducing levels of the body’s stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol.(3)
Walking is a natural stress reliever and positively affects a group of hormone-producing glands called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is responsible for the body’s response to stress and regulates processes like digestion, your immune system, and emotions.
Studies have shown that people who take regular walks or other forms of physical exercise have better emotional health than those who do not exercise regularly.(4)
6. Improves your attention span and memory
You might ask yourself: “If walking is so great for our legs and heart, then I can just do this on a treadmill, right?” Well, you can. But you’d be missing out on a whole lot of other benefits.
Walking outdoors for 30 minutes has a more significant influence on your cognitive functions than walking in an urban environment.
Looking at a pretty landscape, hearing the birds chirp, and breathing in the fresh air can improve our attention and memory. The attention restoration theory states that the effortless act of taking in our beautiful surroundings, and the aesthetically-pleasing stimuli within them, can help restore our attention capacities.
One study found that memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after people spent an hour walking in nature.(5)
So, the next time you find yourself with mental fatigue from too much time spent looking at a computer screen or scrolling through Instagram, head outside and enjoy the stillness.
7. Walking is good for your heart
The older we get, the more conscious we are of what makes our body tick: our heart.
Ischaemic heart disease is the leading cause of death amongst adults worldwide, and we know that our diet and lifestyle affect heart health.(6) If heart disease runs in the family or is a worry for you, consider regular walking as a form of exercise.
A study looking at men and women found that just 20 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, including walking, could help ward off heart disease and heart failure later in life, particularly in men.(7)
Another study followed women aged 50-70 over 17 years. It found that women who walked at a faster pace of 3 miles per hour (4.8 km) than women who walked under 2 miles per hour (3.2 km) had a 34% less chance of developing heart disease.(8)
8. Helps extend your life
Many factors determine our life expectancy: genetics, environment, lifestyle choices, and health care access are just some examples.
The consensus is that active adults live longer than those who do little to no activity.
One 2020 study found that if every American adult (excluding those with disabilities) walked briskly or exercised for an additional 10 minutes a day, 7% of deaths annually across the country might be avoided. For adults that walked 30 minutes a day, this number rose to 17%.(9)
Even walking at a leisurely pace can produce results. A 2019 study showed that women who walked at least 4,500 steps, either intensively or just strolling, had 40% less chance of dying than those who walked around 2,700 steps during the five-year follow-up period.(10)
While it’s worth noting that COVID-19 has skewed mortality rates around the world, the bottom line is still important. Just 10 minutes of brisk walking or exercise a day can significantly impact your or a loved one’s health and prevent premature death. Since walking is a low-impact exercise, it is a healthy, safe option for older people who may suffer from joint pain.
9. Improves your coordination and balance
Over time, your balance and coordination can improve with stronger lower body muscles. For older people, this is especially important for preventing falls.
Try these balance exercises the next time you head out:
- Stretch your arms out to the side
- Keep your gaze forward and your chin parallel to the ground
- Step forward and place the heel of your foot right in front of the toe of your other foot
- Repeat with the other foot and walk in a straight line, heel-to-toe each time
- Continue for 10 to 20 steps
Heel and toe walks
- Walk for at least five minutes to warm up
- Take 10 steps with your weight mainly on your heels and your toes slightly off the ground
- Then, walk on your toes only for 10 steps, with your heels off the ground
- Walk for 10 steps
- Repeat 2-3 times – use a stick or hold onto a wall for balance if you need it!
- Do these in an open area where you can walk side-to-side with no obstacles
- Stand with your legs apart and knees slightly bent (position 1)
- Cross the left foot behind the right foot and plant it on the ground
- Move the right foot to the side, so you return to the first position
- Keeping your balance, cross the left foot in front of the right foot and plant it on the ground
- Move the right foot again and return to position 1
- Reverse the steps by moving to the left to repeat this drill
10. When you walk, you’re being kind to the environment
While there are many benefits of walking for you, it also lets our trees breathe a sigh of oxygen-rich relief.
Instead of hopping in the car to make a 2 or even 5 km journey, leave your house earlier and walk.
Here are just some of the reasons why you should choose walking over driving when possible:
- Transport contributes approximately one-quarter of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions
- The emissions from cars seep into our seas: an estimated 5% to 10% of the plastics found in the ocean come from tire dust(10)
- When you walk, you reduce noise pollution in any area and congestion on the roads
- Pedestrians, on average, are less exposed to air pollutants compared to persons traveling by car, bus, or bike(11)