10 Surprising and Powerful Benefits of Walking Daily
By Michele Ross • Updated December 23, 2020
Want to experience more creativity, greater joy, and improved immunity? I promise I’m not peddling magical potions or expensive quick fixes. There are no techniques to learn. You have exactly what you need to effortlessly reap countless rewards for your mind, body, and spirit—and they all start with your own two feet. Enlighten your perspective on upping your step count with these 10 motivating and surprising benefits of walking daily.
10 Benefits of Walking Daily
1. Walking Sparks CreativityGreat minds as various as Henry David Thoreau, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Steve Jobs famously took to walking to stimulate creative output. And according to a 2014 Stanford study, it turns out they were onto something. Research participants showed an average 60 percent boost in creativity after only five to 16 minutes of walking, compared to those who remained seated. The surprising part? The findings resulted from indoor walks on a treadmill, indicating you’re not necessarily dependent on outdoor elements to reap the creative benefits of walking.
2. Walking Reduces StressAre you prone to chronic stress, or simply need to take the edge off from time to time? There’s no need to turn to alcohol, pills, or other temporary fixes. Instead, simply immerse yourself in nature. The physiological and psychological benefits of shinrin-yoku, aka forest bathing or nature therapy, are widely championed in Japan. Thankfully, the Western world is now catching on. A 2019 study shows that short sojourns into nature can lower your levels of cortisol, aka the stress hormone. While the study found the best results from 20 to 30 minute exposure at least three times a week, even 10 minutes can suffice if you’re crunched for time. Light walking, and even sitting outdoors, reaped cortisol-lowering results. Also, you’re not necessarily limited to venture into the wilderness. The stress-reducing benefits extend even to “urban nature,” even if that’s at your local park or on the nearest patch of grass.
3. Walking Supports Mental HealthIt’s well-known that increased physical activity can boost your mood thanks to feel-good endorphins. But even further, a 2015 study demonstrates that it can significantly ease depressive symptoms and promote an overall higher quality of life. The study followed middle-aged Australian women prone to depression. They chose from either 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 200 minutes of walking per week, and the results were seriously impressive. Participants reported better physical health, less pain, higher energy levels, greater socialization, improved emotional stability, fewer symptoms of depression. As 20 percent of Americans will face mental health challenges throughout their lifetimes, walking provides the perfect opportunity to feel better naturally.
4. Walking IMPROVES CognitionThe hippocampus in the brain plays a major role in learning and memory, and naturally shrinks in late adulthood. Luckily, research shows that moderate walks can help combat cognitive decline, especially in mature age populations. A 2015 study monitored participants aged 55 to 80. They walked for 10 minutes weekly, increasing intervals by five minutes each week after until they maintained a steady 40-minute walk. Within a year, researchers found an increase in “the size of the anterior hippocampus, leading to improvements in spatial memory.” Since hippocampal volumes are greater in physically fit people, it’s all the more incentive to consistently hit the pavement no matter your age. Speaking of, another 2012 study found that a 12-minute stint of aerobic exercise can improve the selective attention of children. Both studies lead to the same conclusion: Your brain undoubtedly benefits from regular physical activity.
5. Walking Counteracts Aches from SittingStuck at your desk from sunrise to sunset? Both daily and over time, you’ll likely feel tension from hunched shoulders, tight hips, and cramped muscles. The antidote: intermittent short strolls throughout the day. A 2015 study shows that five-minute walking breaks on the hour can undo the negative impacts of long-term sitting via increased muscle activity and improved blood circulation. So instead of rushing through your tasks or scrolling the ‘gram on autopilot, make a habit to walk a little. You can dole out your time by listening to your favorite song, calling a loved one, or simply enjoying the peace and quiet.
6. Walking Boosts immune functionInstead of taking a reactive approach at the first signs of unwellness, you can be proactive with consistent healthy habits: eating a balanced diet, taking immune-boosting nutrients, and yes—walking. After all, Hippocrates famously said that walking is man’s best medicine. A study looked at 1,000 people in two groups: those who walked at minimum 20 minutes a day, five days a week, and those who exercised only once weekly. The former group showed milder bouts of respiratory illness over shorter periods of time. They also logged 43 percent fewer sick days at work. My advice? Use that extra sick time to *take a walk* on the wild side and play hooky.
7. Walking MANAGES WEIGHTIt’s not news that a sedentary lifestyle can easily lead to weight gain. (And nightly Netflix binges certainly don’t help.) But Harvard researchers found that physical activity as simple as walking can seriously stymie the likelihood of more serious issues associated with weight gain to arise. In a sizable pool of 12,000 participants, a 2012 study found that those who walked briskly for 60 minutes daily reduced the effects of weight-promoting genes by a whopping 50 percent. So whether you want to fit into your favorite jeans or prevent weight-related conditions down the road, it’s all the more reason to turn off the tube and put some pep in your step.
8. Walking curbS cravingsIf you have a sweet tooth or reach for sugary treats around that time of the month, walking can help curb those cravings. According to a 2011 study, taking a 15-minute walk can cut chocolate consumption by half. Luckily, the same finding applies to people prone to stress-eating. So rather than automatically indulging your cravings, go for a stroll. (If you’re still hungry afterwards, reach for a healthier snack alternative.)
9. Walking Speeds DigestionIf you rely on coffee or a digestif after meals to get things moving—let’s say, internally—you’re actually better off taking a few laps around the block. One study from Germany found that a 15-minute post-meal walk sped the rate at which food passed through the stomach. Perhaps surprisingly, the drinks didn’t show any impact on transit time.
10. Walking Improves SleepLast but not least, walking can help you get better shut-eye. A 2019 study shows that female participants who walked an extra 2,000 steps (about a mile) daily reported better overall sleep quality. Full, high-quality sleep cycles are key to healthy sleep patterns, so consider walking the perfect pairing to your existing bedtime routine.
Final ThoughtsWalking may just be the simplest way to boost wellness from all angles. It’s free, natural, and something the majority of us do—and are able to do—for the better part of our lives. There are also important philosophical benefits of walking to be had. Those include asserting agency and independence, staying present, and gaining a richer sense of time. As polar explorer Erling Kagge poignantly puts it, “This is precisely the secret held by all those who go by foot: life is prolonged when you walk. Walking expands time rather than collapses it … The world becomes larger.” To fully reap the benefits of a daily walk, I encourage you to take a new approach to the act. Maybe you’ll opt to walk to work or do errands, take longer routes, or simply move your feet with no clear destination in mind. The joy and rewards of walking will always be there; all you need to do is take one step at a time.
April 13, 2020
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