You know you need to be active, but you avoid exercising because you think it needs to be a difficult, sweat-inducing experience. Fortunately, walking for exercise can give you a lot of the same benefits as grueling workouts, which means no more excuses. Getting in a daily walk is much more manageable than spending hours at the gym and it’s a lot easier on your joints. But is walking enough to keep you healthy?
Benefits of daily walks
- Improved digestion. Walking can help keep you regular.
- Mood improvement. Walking daily helps reduce depression, anxiety, and even insomnia. Bonus points if you’re walking outside with a friend. Walking in the sunlight will fight off seasonal affective disorder.
- Reduction in health risks such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and some cancers.
- Weight loss and improved body composition. When you start walking daily you might begin to see yourself losing weight. Even if the scale doesn’t move much, watch for inches to slip away as your body composition improves.
- Improved creativity. Researchers have found that going for a walk can help you come up with solutions to problems, which means your lunch break at work is the perfect time to take a walk.
- Reduced or improved varicose veins in your legs.
How long should you walk, and how often?
So you’re convinced. It’s time to take up a daily walking routine. But how long should you walk and how often? It depends on what you want to achieve. To decrease health risks such as heart disease, you need to exercise at a moderate level for 30 minutes at least four days a week. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you need to get on the treadmill and stay there for 30 minutes. Researchers have found that it’s the total time spent exercising daily that matters, even if your 30 minutes is split up in 10-minute increments throughout the day. Walking is the perfect form of exercise to split up this way. If you live close enough, take a short walk to work. Walk over to a friend’s house instead of driving. Those small increments of walking add up.
Leisurely stroll, or brisk pace?
One of the biggest downfalls of thinking about walking as exercise is our tendency to think that walking means easy. To get the benefits of walking, you need to be working at it. No leisurely strolls around the neighborhood while you stop to talk with your neighbors. You should be walking at a brisk pace. The aim is to be walking at least three and a half miles an hour. Which means setting your treadmill to 3.5 if you’re walking inside or aiming for more steps if you’re wearing a pedometer.
When you ‘re ready to take up walking, here are a few things you can do to make sure it’s “good enough” exercise.
- Warm up first. Warming up lets your muscles loosen up and your heart start pumping before you start working hard. When you’re walking, this might mean you plan to spend the first five minutes in a leisurely stroll before you begin your brisk walk.
- Walk with a friend. You’ll be more likely to keep your walking goals if you have someone to keep you accountable.
- Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle. This helps your arms swing naturally as you get going.
- Make it brisk. Remember, at least 3.5 mph on your treadmill. You can add in an extra little boost to your exercise routine by incorporating interval training (alternating between short bursts of fast and slow speeds). You can also add in more hills or stairs to your walking routine as you feel comfortable.
- Skip the weights. They make it more likely that you’ll injure yourself, and they don’t have many benefits.
- Stretch your muscles when you’re done walking.
Whether you’re walking around your neighborhood in the evenings with your family or alone at the gym, walking can be a good low-impact exercise. Remember, an exercise program you can stick with is more effective than the best exercise program out there. For many people, that means walking. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your doctor before you begin an exercise regime.