You don’t need to sprint to see a boost in health.
Sure, walking doesn’t exactly train you for a marathon or make that barre class any easier to endure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a really healthy form of exercise.
In fact, walking may help you reduce your risk of several lifestyle-related health conditions (like high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes) just as much as running, according to the American Heart Association. Researchers identify a “brisk pace” as the best option (that’s 3 to 4 MPH), but even participants who walk at more leisurely paces consistently see results, too. Still not convinced that walking counts as legit exercise? Here’s what the science has to say.
Walking can help lower blood pressure. In a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, postmenopausal women who walked a mile or two a day lowered their blood pressure by about 11 points after six months, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Walking may lower resting heart rate. That’s a good thing: Taking fewer beats per minute means your heart is working more effectively. A 2015 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine found that participants in a walking group showed an average heart rate drop of nearly three beats per minute.
Walking can help lower cholesterol. That same study of walking groups demonstrated a drop in the participants’ total cholesterol as well. Here’s why high cholesterol is so dangerous for your health.
Walking may nudge the needle on the scale. Losing weight and lowering your body mass index doesn’t necessarily require intense cardio. The American Diabetes Association suggests 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week to see weight loss and a lower BMI.
Walking may improve your mental health. You probably already know that even one trip to the gym can spike endorphins and lift your mood, but regular exercise may actually reduce everyday depression and anxiety symptoms. A 2011 study of older women years found that those who engaged in “leisure-time physical activity” (their fancy term for walking) had lower scores on the depression and anxiety scale.
Walking can help prevent chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Because walking can bring down your blood pressure, BMI, and cholesterol, you may be less likely to develop these conditions as well as plenty others. (Here are more tips for reducing your risk of heart disease.)
Walking can help manage arthritis pain. The Arthritis Foundation recommends walking to strengthen muscles and supports joints, which can reduce painful arthritis symptoms. A 2008 study of older women with arthritis showed moderate-intensity walking experienced fewer arthritis symptoms than those who did not.
And the best part? Walking is totally free. No gym fees or fancy equipment necessary. It’s truly one of the most accessible exercises available.
Find a walking buddy (human or furry) and make walking part of your daily routine.
Hanson S, and Jones A. Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Med. 2015 Jun;49(11):710-5.
Heesch KC, Brown WJ. Do walking and leisure-time physical activity protect against arthritis in older women? J Epidemiol Community Health. 2008 Dec;62(12):1086-91.
Heesch KC, Burton NW, Brown WJ. Concurrent and prospective associations between physical activity, walking and mental health in older women. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2011 Sep;65(9):807-13.
Moreau KL, Degarmo R, Langley J, McMahon C, Howley ET, Bassett DR Jr, Thompson DL. Increasing daily walking lowers blood pressure in postmenopausal women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Nov;33(11):1825-31.
Walk, don’t run, your way to a healthy heart. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2017. (Accessed on September 19, 2017 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Walk-Dont-Run-Your-Way-to-a-Healthy-Heart_UCM_452926_Article.jsp#.WcGHRMiGMdV.)
Walking—a great place to start! Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association, 2015. (Accessed on September 20, 2017 at http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/types-of-activity/walking-a-great-place-to-start.html.)