The Benefits of a Daily Walking Habit

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person walking briskly through a park

The benefits of a daily walking habit are numerous and incredibly valuable if you want to live a long, healthy life.

Not only will you learn about several of the benefits to a walking habit, but we’ll also show you how to get the most health benefits from your walking habit, and give you some ideas on how to make it a habit that will truly stick.

The Benefits of a Walking Habit

It’s great for your heart:

One study found that faster walking patients with heart disease are hospitalized less. [1]

In another study, researchers found that brisk walking is just as effective as running for reducing the risk of a variety of health conditions including heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes. [2]

And brisk walks lasting 40 minutes or more, two to three times per week are associated with a near 25% drop in the risk of heart failure among post-menopausal women. [3]

It’s also great for your brain:

Walking five miles per week (just 15 minutes every day) was found to protect the brain structure in people with Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment, especially in areas of the brain’s key memory and learning centers. The study participants also had a slower decline in memory loss. [4]

Another study found that the foot’s impact during walking sends pressure waves through the arteries that significantly modify and can increase the supply of blood to the brain. Walking (and running) can optimize brain function and the overall sense of well-being during exercise. [5]

It’s just great all-around:

a regular brisk walking habit has been found to benefit patients with kidney disease[6] and osteoarthritis[7]. It can also enhance visual processing[8] and lead to more creativity[9].

Additionally, walking an extra 2 minutes each hour may offset the health hazards of sitting for long periods of time. [10]

Get the Most Out of Your Walks

Walk Briskly

Multiple studies have confirmed that walking at a faster pace is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality[11]. The protective effects of walking briskly were also more pronounced in walkers over the age of 60. Conversely, older adults who have slower walking speeds may have increased risk for dementia[12].

A brisk pace is generally a 14 to 19 minute mile. But it also depends on your fitness level. Walk at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty.

If you’re not sure what your walking pace is, you can find out by using a fitness tracker like Fitbit that tracks your pace for you. If you don’t have a fitness tracker, you can calculate your pace. Find the total distance of your walking route on google maps and time your walk. Then divide your total minutes walking by the distance you walked.

For example, if I walked a mile and a half in twenty-eight minutes, 28 / 1.5 = 18.6. My pace is 18.6 minutes per mile which is within the range of a brisk pace.

Walk Often

Taking a 2-minute brisk walk every 30 minutes to an hour of sitting helps protect your cardiovascular health and improve your metabolic health by reducing your blood glucose, insulin levels, and triglycerides. [13]

One study found that “this approach, if maintained over months or years, may be enough to explain why individuals who regularly break up sedentary time have better cardio-metabolic health outcomes.” [13]

There are a lot of fitness trackers, smart watches, apps that track your steps and/or can remind you to stand up and move every hour if you find it difficult to remember or are having trouble making it a habit. For example, my Fitbit reminds me to get 250 steps every hour, which is approximately 2-3 minutes of walking. It can be a pain to step away if I’m deep in the middle of something, but the long term health benefits are too good to ignore, and I don’t want to do Future Me a disservice by not taking my health seriously.

The same study mentioned above also found that the most benefits come from walking for 2 minutes every 30 minutes combined with a longer 30-minute walk at the end of the day.

Breaking up your day this much might not be realistic, especially if you work an hourly desk job or are constantly in meetings, so do what you can! Even walking for a few minutes every couple of hours is better than not at all. If you have a fitness tracker, aim for a minimum of 6,000 to 10,000 steps a day[14], and break it up into as many chunks as you can.

Try Interval Walking

If you have type 2 diabetes, are older, or are overweight, try interval walking training (IWT).

Interval walking training is when the intensity or pace of the walking alternates. For example, one study had participants walk at 70% of their maximum capacity for 3 minutes, then at 40% capacity for the next 3 minutes for 5 or more sets. [15]

For those with type 2 diabetes, interval walking improved glycemic control compared to continuous walking with the same overall energy expenditure. [16]

In older adults, interval walking significantly improved aerobic capacity and decreased lifestyle-related disease. [15]

And for those trying to lose weight, interval walking can burn up to 20 percent more calories compared to maintaining a steady pace. [17]

If you have a dog who likes to sniff-n-go, you might already be doing interval walking without realizing! Just make sure you don’t let her slow the pace too much. My dog might try to argue that walking at 20% of our fitness capacity is completely acceptable, but science will likely not agree with her.

Make it a Habit that Actually Sticks

Set an alarm

If your fitness tracker or smart watch has a feature that reminds you to walk every hour, take advantage of it! You can also download a reminder app to your smart phone or add them to your alarm app.

Just make sure you don’t snooze or ignore the reminders – that’s the surest way to make the habit difficult to form. If you know you’re going to be busy at a certain time, pick times where the reminder won’t interrupt something important.

Build it into your routines

Build your walking habit into parts of your routine that are normally sedentary – instead of driving to pickup your takeout, groceries, or coffee, try walking there instead. If you live close to your workplace, walk to work when the weather permits.

One study showed that walking with a utilitarian purpose naturally increases your walking pace. Additionally, those who walked with a purpose self-reported to be healthier than those who only walked leisurely. [18]

Walk with others

Walking with others is an easy way to create accountability and turn walking into a long-lasting habit.

Pick a friend, roommate, neighbor, or family member who has similar health and fitness goals, and ask them to be your walking partner. When one of you doesn’t feel like walking, the other can be a source of encouragement and motivation.

You can also join a local group of walkers. Look in Meetup, check your local fitness stores, or ask community leaders.

Walk a dog

If you have a dog, you’ll know that they love walks!

And once you start forming a walking habit, they’re quick to learn what time is walk time. So on the days you forget, you’ll have the most excited fluffy reminder. And if you don’t feel like walking, you’ll end up the bad guy who crushes the hope in those sweet eyes and innocently wagging tail. For me, that guilt is more than enough to get me out the door with my happy pup.

If you don’t have a dog, the dog you walk doesn’t have to be your own! There is no such thing as too many dog walks for an able-bodied dog, so if you have a friend with a dog you can offer to take their dog for an extra walk every day.

You can also become a dog walker in your community. You can sign up for a dog walking service or knock on the doors of neighbors in your community and offer to help their furbaby get some exercise.

Dog walking also has the added benefit of an extra layer of accountability because you’re no longer responsible for just your own health, but the health of a dog as well.

Bottom line, if you love dogs there is no shortage of ways to form your walking habit around it.

Gamify it

If story immersion and narrative engage and motivate you, there are some fantastic options to gamify walking.

Pokemon Go: I’m sure you’ve heard of Pokemon Go from its 2016-2017 ubiquity, but the community is still strong. It’s an incredibly fun augmented reality (AR) game, even if you have no idea what a Pokemon is. And even if you already have a regular walking habit, this game is highly likely to increase it[19].

The Walk: By the same developers who created Zombies, Run! and Zombies 5k (both of which I highly recommend if you’d like to start or improve a running habit), The Walk is a thrilling audio experience that requires you to walk in order to progress the story and stop a dangerous bomber while evading capture by the police and enemy agents.

Ingress: A sci-fi AR game where two factions, the Enlightened and the Resistance, fight for control over Mind Units that can be captured for your side using portals. It’s by the same developers as Pokemon Go, so the map UI might feel familiar to Pokemon trainers. Just like in Pokemon Go, the portal locations are disguised as regular locations around town, encouraging players to walk and discover the game.

Geocaching: An old-school analog treasure hunting adventure from the year 2000 (when GPS got a major accuracy upgrade)[20] is now a popular community-based app that allows you to find real treasure in your local environment (and leave treasure for others to find too). You’ll need to walk, explore, and get creative in order to find the treasures cleverly left behind by other players.

Remember your why

If you feel your motivation waning, always come back to your “why” – the reason that motivates you to walk.

For me, it’s because I have a family history of heart conditions; I want to do everything I can to keep my heart and cardiovascular system healthy so I can live a long, worry-free life. When I think of my “why”, I’m reminded of the health mistakes my family members made that I want to avoid, which includes a sedentary lifestyle.

If you don’t know your “why”, find it. It will be your motivation to keep the habit when life feels against you – when you’re mentally drained, when it’s cold outside, when you’re tired, when your mental health is suffering, when your muscles are sore – the brain can come up with an infinite number of plausible excuses to avoid doing something difficult. Your “why” can overcome all of that when it’s strong enough.

Sources:

  1. https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/faster-walking-heart-patients-are-hospitalised-less
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404170225.htm
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180301094814.htm
  4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101129101914.htm
  5. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170424141340.htm
  6. https://www.newswise.com/articles/walking-may-have-profound-benefits-for-patients-with-kidney-disease
  7. https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2019/04/just-an-hour-of-weekly-walking-staves-off-disability/
  8. https://www.uni-wuerzburg.de/en/news-and-events/news/detail/news/walking-changes-vision/
  9. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/04/creativity-walk
  10. https://healthcare.utah.edu/publicaffairs/news/2015/04/04-30-15_short_walks_offset_hazards_of_sitting_too_long.php
  11. https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2018/06/01/walking-faster-could-make-you-live-longer–research.html
  12. https://www.healthinaging.org/blog/older-adults-who-have-slower-walking-speeds-may-have-increased-risk-for-dementia/
  13. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170626093543.htm
  14. https://www.wiley.com//WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-110968.html
  15. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191101093903.htm
  16. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140804202138.htm
  17. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151008094905.htm
  18. https://news.osu.edu/why-walking-to-work-may-be-better-for-you-than-a-casual-stroll/
  19. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190205115324.htm
  20. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geocaching

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