Exercise can often involve complex routines and specialized gear that leave us overwhelmed or confused about how to properly complete movements. But some of the most effective fitness regimens are already part of our regular lives. In fact, most of us have been experts at one of the most effective exercises since we were children: walking.
Walking is a terrific workout that offers a myriad of benefits, some obvious and some you might not realize. Once you get walking, breathe a little fresh air and consider the years this productive habit could add to your life, you’re likely to get hooked on walking—even if you’re already physically fit.
The benefits of walking
The benefits of walking aren’t limited to a certain part of your body. A daily walk can improve your emotional and intellectual health, plus help you prevent or manage a variety of physical conditions. Here are just six of the many benefits of walking.
- Help manage or prevent certain conditions: Hopefully you’ve begun walking before acquiring a condition like heart disease, high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. But according to studies conducted by the Mayo Clinic, walking can also help keep pre-existing conditions under control. Walking is the epitome of functional fitness, making it safe even for people with health conditions.
- Ease joint pain: Perhaps you’d assume walking would aggravate tender joints, but it’s actually the opposite. Walking protects joints by lubricating the knees and hips, all while strengthening the underlying muscles that support these bones.
- Fuel your creativity: Physical movement can lift your brain out of that rut. Whether it’s the change of scenery or because you’re focusing on other things while your subconscious wrestles with that pesky problem, researchers have found that subjects who walked solved problems more creatively than subjects who were sedentary.
- Slow the aging process: This might sound like a huge claim, but 20 to 25 minutes of daily walking has been found to trigger certain DNA repair processes that can help ward off premature aging.
- Improve your mood: Could going for a walk could be Nature’s Prozac? Walking improves your mood, modifies your nervous system to remove hostility, negativity and stress, and exposes you to a natural source of Vitamin D.
- Increase blood flow to the brain: Your body is an impressive machine. Within the hydraulics of your heart, the physical impact of walking on foot actually communicates pressure waves through your circulatory system that sync your heart rate to your brain’s blood flow.
How often you should walk (and where)
While you probably embark on any number of small, fragmented wanderings that take you a few feet throughout the day, the real benefits of walking require longer, more rigorous workouts. About 150 minutes of weekly walking is a good goal to shoot for; whether you complete this in one long walk or over the course of shorter walks is up to you. However, the more ambitious (and healthy) goal to aim for is 10,000 steps a day. That way, you’re not straining your body one day and letting it decline the rest of the week.
Intervals of intense exercise can be the best way for non-exercisers to master a particular level of cardio. A walk outside gets you in touch with Mother Nature, but a treadmill can help you keep track of your actual speed and heart rate. While the harder exercises typically generate faster results, there are an array of walking workouts to choose from.
- The Jog: This 30-minute walking routine begins with five minutes of warmup, then progresses to 60 second intervals of speed (about 4 mph) and recovery (about 3.4 mph). This is the easiest part of the walk. After six minutes of repetition, you’re ready to move into the slightly more intense second phase. Increase your speed by about .2 mph while keeping your recovery intervals the same. This phase will also repeat for six minutes (or three speed intervals and three recovery intervals), then becomes the third phase with your speed intervals ramping up by another .2 mph. This walk ends with a five-minute cool down.
- The Sprint: After a five minute workout, walk as fast as you possibly can for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, note how far you travelled and turn around to return. As you walk, gradually decrease your speed to give yourself a cooldown as you approach your original start point.
- The Time Saver: Burn calories in 10 minutes with two minutes of warmup, one minute spent walking briskly, one minute jogging, one minute fast walking, 30 seconds doing jumping jacks and another 30 seconds completing side jumps with your feet together. Fast walk, and then jog for the last two minutes. After a one-minute cooldown, you’ve achieved an effective walking workout.
Walking is more than a convenient workout. It’s the first part of a healthy lifestyle that you’ll thank yourself for pursuing now and in years to come. And with no equipment required and endless variations available, even the most fit exercisers can benefit from embracing a little bit of walking—anytime and anywhere.