6 unexpected health benefits of walking

Step up to better sleep, strength, mood and more incredible benefits.

Walking for 30 minutes a day can improve your health in more ways than you might expect. Not only is walking a fantastic, low-impact form of cardiovascular exercise, it can dramatically improve your mental and emotional health and help with every health goal from stress to sleep.

Not many people think of walking as a real exercise. Maybe it’s too easy, too common, too enjoyable, or too relaxing to be considered a serious form of exercise. In fact, the best thing about this enjoyable activity is that it’s one of the easiest exercises you can do consistently.

The challenge, however, is making walking (or consistent movement in general) a regular part of your daily life. Many health coaches, doctors, and fitness trainers will tell you that the best form of exercise is the one you actually maintain. Here are a few tips on why making walking a daily priority is good for your whole body, and how to make it a habit.

Daily Walk Benefit
1. Walking improves heart health
There’s a reason walking is known as one of the best forms of exercise for heart health. The National Heart Foundation of Australia estimates that walking 30 minutes or more a day can actually reduce the risk of heart disease, reducing the risk of stroke by 35%.

Plus, taking a daily walk can help you maintain a healthy weight, metabolism, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol, all of which help keep your heart healthy. Even if you can’t commit to 30 minutes a day, evidence suggests that even a small amount of walking is better than nothing (Yes, vigorous vacuuming, playing with the kids, walking the dog, and long grocery store runs all count!

2. Walking reduces stress and improves mood
It’s no secret that exercise is a well-researched and proven way to reduce stress. Walking releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that promote pleasurable states like laughter and love. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain to bring about a sense of well-being, increased self-esteem, increased pain tolerance, and even a sense of euphoria, often referred to as a ‘runner’s high’.

Walking does make you feel good. A 2018 study found that even a short 10-minute walk improved participants’ emotional state. Being active affects the way our brains process neurotransmitters like dopamine, and it has immediate effects.

3. Walking can reduce depression
Research shows that physical activity, including walking, can reduce depression. For example, a study of 121 postmenopausal women found that those who walked for 40 minutes three times a week had significantly lower levels of depression.

A second study found that even brisk walking of 2.5 hours per week was associated with a significantly lower risk of depression compared with inactive adults. Depression affects millions of people around the world and is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and data have long shown that exercise is beneficial in reducing depression.

4. Walking strengthens joints
Walking can play a huge role in reducing the development and progression of osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis that affects the joints. Exercise has long shown benefits in treating and preventing osteoarthritis: A recent study showed that walking can improve pain and slow the progression of the disease. The researchers found that those who exercised by walking had a 40 percent reduction in the development of new-onset frequent knee pain compared to those who did not walk. Exercise, such as walking, has many health benefits and should always be the first line of prevention and treatment for degenerative joint disease.

5. Walking to control blood sugar
A meta-analysis of data from more than 300,000 participants yielded a key finding: Those who walked regularly had a 30 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because walking can help control or lower blood sugar. In particular, walking at a brisk pace (more than 20 minutes per mile) was associated with a 41 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, a study of 201 people with type 2 diabetes found that each additional 2,600 steps walked per day was associated with a 0.2 percent reduction in A1c, or blood sugar levels.

6. Walking Boosts Immune Function
Another health benefit of walking daily: Researchers believe that exercise can significantly boost immune function, possibly leading to changes in the antibodies and white blood cells that help your body fight off disease. The temporary increase in body temperature can also stop bacterial growth while slowing the release of stress hormones (which may increase your chances of getting sick). Additionally, walking may flush bacteria from the lungs and airways, reducing the chances of catching cold and flu viruses.

How to Make Walking a Daily Habit
Walking is one of the best places to start when making exercise a daily priority. You don’t need fancy equipment, you don’t need to learn complex moves, you don’t need special clothing, you can put on some good sneakers, comfortable clothes, and maybe listen to a good playlist. It’s usually mild enough that even if your health suffers, you can still reap many benefits from a brisk 30-minute walk each day.

The first step to creating a walking habit is to forget about keeping track of your score. We tend to be drawn to numbers, which can feel very intimidating and actually prevent taking the first step. Instead, she encourages people to do what they can in the moment, whether it’s a three-minute walk several times a day or a 30-minute walk at a time.

These are some simple tricks to sneak in an extra step. It’s a process called piggybacking, or habit stacking — linking new behaviors to behaviors we’re already familiar with.

• Take the stairs instead of the elevator
• park further away when running errands
• walk around the house while making coffee
• Attend “walking meetings” instead of sitting at a desk
• Walk up and down the track during children’s sports practice

Whether you walk in sections or all at once, making walking a regular habit will help it become second nature. The more we do something regularly, the more likely we are to stick with it. When it comes to habit formation, repetition is key.