20 Health Benefits of Walking, Plus Simple Tips On How to Start a Walking Routine
Looking for a simple way to add more exercise to your daily routine? Take a walk!
The health benefits of walking every day are far-reaching and well researched, and a consistent walking routine can enhance the health of your heart, your head, your muscles, your bones – even your eyes.
And if walking for weight loss is your goal, you’ll find that a daily walk can help you take off pounds, trim belly fat and tone the muscles in your legs and core.
Here’s a list of 20 benefits of walking, along with a few tips on how to get started.
1. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to exercise.
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to start walking. It’s easy to do and relatively inexpensive. It doesn’t require a lot of special equipment, high-tech clothing, or fancy facilities. All you need is a good pair of shoes and space to walk. And because walking can easily be adapted to fit your own schedule and abilities, it’s a good way to ease into exercising if you’ve been on the sidelines for a while.1
2. You can lose weight by walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Research shows that if you’re overweight and already following a calorie-restricted diet, walking can make your weight-loss plan more effective. A study published in the American Society for Nutrition's The Journal of Nutrition found that overweight subjects who followed a calorie-restricted diet and walked a total of 2.5 hours a week lost more weight than subjects who just dieted without walking.2
3. Walking can reduce belly fat and change your body shape.
Not only can it help you shed pounds, walking can actually change the shape of your body and help trim belly fat. In a study published in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, obese women who walked for 50 to 70 minutes three times per week for 12 weeks, on average, reduced their waist circumference by 1.1 inches and lost 1.5% of their body fat.3
4. It can help tone your legs, torso and arms.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, the muscles toned by walking include your leg and abdominal muscles – even your arm muscles if you pump your arms as you walk. This increases your range of motion, shifting the pressure and weight from your joints to your muscles.4
5. Even a casual walk can protect against heart disease.
In a report that included findings from multiple studies, researchers found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% and cut the risk of dying by 32%. Even walking just 5.5 miles per week at a casual pace of about two miles an hour was shown to help protect against cardiovascular disease. The protection was greatest among people who walked longer distances, or at a faster pace, or both.5
6. Walking can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
In a joint position statement issued by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association, research indicated that moderate exercise such as brisk walking reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. The joint statement recommended a 30-minute walk at least five days a week, including at least 20 continuous minutes at a brisk pace of 15 to 20 minutes per mile (3 to 4 mph).6
7. Routine walking can lower your blood pressure.
One study showed that after six months of walking up to 50 to 70 minutes a day, five to six days a week, sedentary adults with high blood pressure reduced both their systolic and diastolic blood pressures. The beneficial effects were greatest for people who had the highest blood pressure at the start, dropping their BP readings from a baseline average of 164/88 mmHg to an average of 143/81 mmHg.7
8. Up with the “good” cholesterol, down with the “bad.”
Research shows that regular aerobic exercise in general, including walking, may help to improve HDL cholesterol, which is considered is "good" cholesterol because it is associated with better heart health. Walking specifically has been shown to lower non-HDL cholesterol, often associated with a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, by about 4%.8
9. Brisk walking can help protect healthy bones.
Not only is walking easier on your bones and joints than running, it can actually help you maintain better musculoskeletal health. Walking has been shown to help prevent the loss of bone mineral density (BMD), which is a leading indicator of osteoporosis and can help determine your risk for fractures. Studies show that brisk walking can have positive effects on BMD in the hip, spinal column and neck bones of older women.9
10. It’s good for your mind as well as your body.
Walking every day can improve your mood and enhance your overall mental health. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that women diagnosed with depression felt emotionally better when they walked for at least 200 minutes every week.10 And the Journal of Physiological Anthropology reported that a 20-minute walk in a park or forest lowers the brain’s cortisol levels and helps to reduce stress.11
11. Walking can improve your balance and coordination.
Our sense of balance typically gets worse as we get older, and even the simplest activities can lead to falls and injuries. Walking helps build lower-body strength, an important part of maintaining good balance, and it’s a safe way to exercise for most people. When combined with strength training and other balance-enhancing workouts, walking can improve your balance and coordination and reduce your risk of an injury-inducing fall.12
12. You’ll can get a natural energy boost.
Put down that power shot. Walking can give you the energy boost you need without jacking up your intake of caffeine and sugar. In fact, one study showed that just 10 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity stair walking had a more energizing effect than a low dose of caffeine for active young women who suffered from chronically insufficient sleep.13
13. A 20-minute walk may help reduce inflammation in your body.
Chronic inflammation may cause heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis, as well as bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. But researchers have found that just 20 minutes of brisk walking can help reduce inflammation. Even a short walk can provide a path to better health.14
14. More steps per day could decrease mortality
Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Cancer Institute found that people who walk 8,000 steps a day (about four miles) are 51% less likely to die of all-cause mortality in the next 10 years for any reason than people who walk 4,000 steps a day (roughly two miles). For those that want to step it up even higher, 12,000 steps per day was associated with a 65% lower risk compared with taking 4,000 steps. 15
15. A daytime walk can mean a better night’s sleep.
You don’t need an intense, rigorous exercise program to improve your sleep. Just taking more steps during the day – like a 20-minute lunchtime walk or walking a few blocks after work – may be enough to help you sleep better at night. In one study, participants who averaged the most steps over the course of a month and spent the most minutes being active reported significantly better sleep than those who walked the least.16
16. You may get more of the Vitamin D you need.
Vitamin D is essential for maintaining bone, muscle and immune health, and a deficiency can lead to multiple health issues. You can reduce your risk of Vitamin D deficiency by taking a quick walk in the sunshine. An article in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that walking outdoors for around six to eight minutes mid-day with your sleeves rolled up in the summer or up to 40 minutes in the winter (depending on latitude) can help your body produce Vitamin D by exposing your skin to sunlight.17
17. Moving your legs may help your bowels move, too.
A good walk may also help if you’re experiencing constipation. In one study, women who suffered chronic constipation saw improvement in their symptoms after walking three times a week for 60 minutes at a time over a period of 12 weeks.18
18. It can help protect your eyes from the risk of glaucoma.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States, but the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) says physical activities like walking can help control the risks of the disease. Research presented at the AAO’s annual meeting in 2017 reported a 73 percent decline in the risk of developing glaucoma among the most physically active participants in the study. And for each 10-unit increase in walking speed and number of steps per minute, the glaucoma risk decreased by 6 percent.19
19. The power is in your hands (Okay, your feet).
Among the benefits of walking is that you control how often, how far and how fast you walk, so you can determine how long it will take to see results. If your goal is to lose weight, keep in mind you need to burn roughly 3,500 additional calories of physical activity to work off a pound of fat. Per Harvard Medical School, If you walk briskly (a pace of 4 mph) for half an hour on five out of seven days, you'll log 10 miles a week. At the end of three-and-a-half weeks, it's possible to lose 1 pound, even if the number of calories you consume stays the same. If you walk longer, faster, or more often, you can lose that pound more quickly.20
20. A walking routine can start anytime.
It doesn’t take months of planning and training to start enjoying the health benefits of walking. Of course, you should always check with your doctor before starting any regular exercise program. But once you do, you’re ready to walk. Here are some guidelines on how to begin your walking routine:
- For beginners, start by walking briskly at a 3- to 3.5-mph pace (walking a mile in 17-20 minutes), beginning with 10 minutes per day for the first three weeks. Slowly increase the time you walk by five minutes per week until you are able to walk 30 minutes per day, six days per week.
- After a month or so, you can step up your pace to 3.5 to 4.5 mph (13-17 minutes per mile) and walk three miles (about 45 minutes), 3-5 times per week. (If you’re already in good physical shape, you can actually start at this level).
- Once you get comfortable walking farther and faster, you can increase the intensity of your walking workout by adding hills to your route, using 2- or 3-pound hand weights, or by making the leap to racewalking (a pace of 5-9 mph).21
Now that you know some of the health benefits of walking, there’s only one thing left to do: Start Walking!
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Walking: A Step in the Right Direction.” 2017. US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed on March 26, 2021. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/walking-step-right-direction?dkrd=hispw0429#benefits
2. Kleist, B. et al. "Moderate Walking Enhances the Effects of an Energy-Restricted Diet on Fat Mass Loss and Serum Insulin in Overweight and Obese Adults in a 12-Week Randomized Controlled Trial." The Journal of Nutrition. 2017; 147(10): 1875–1884.
3. Hong, H. et al. "Effect of walking exercise on abdominal fat, insulin resistance and serum cytokines in obese women." Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry. 2014; 18(3): 277-85.
4. The Arthritis Foundation. “12 Benefits of Walking.” 2021. The Arthritis Foundation. Accessed on April 8, 2021. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/physical-activity/walking/12-benefits-of-walking
5. Harvard Health Publishing, “Walking: Your steps to health.” 2020. Harvard Medical School. Accessed on April 8, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/walking-your-steps-to-health
6. Colberg, S. et al. "Exercise and type 2 diabetes: the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement." Diabetes Care. 2010; 33(12): e147-e167.
7. Mandini, S. et al. “Walking and hypertension: greater reductions in subjects with higher baseline systolic blood pressure following six months of guided walking.” PeerJ. 2018; 6: e5471.
8. Wang, Y. et all. “Effects of aerobic exercise on lipids and lipoproteins.” Lipids in Health and Disease. 2017; 16(1): 132.
9. Benedetti, M.G. et al. “The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients.” BioMed Research International. 2018; 2018: Article ID 4840531.
10. Heesch, K. et al. "Physical Activity, Walking, and Quality of Life in Women with Depressive Symptoms." American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2015; 48(3): 281-291,
11. Park, B. et al. “Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest) --using salivary cortisol and cerebral activity as indicators.” Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 2007; 26(2): 123-8
12. Harvard Health Publishing, “Improve your balance by walking.” 2015. Harvard Medical School. Accessed on March 27, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/improve-your-balance-by-walking
13. Randolph, D. et al. "Stair walking is more energizing than low dose caffeine in sleep deprived young women." Physiology & Behavior. 2017; 174: 128-135.
14. Dimitrov, S. et al. "Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β2-adrenergic activation." Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2017; 61: 60-68.
15. Saint-Maurice P.F. et al. “Association of Daily Step Count and Step Intensity With Mortality Among US Adults.” The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2020; 323(12): 1151–1160.
16. Bisson, A. et al. "Walk to a better night of sleep: testing the relationship between physical activity and sleep." Sleep Health. 2019; 5(5): 487-494.
17. Mason, R.S. et al. “Vitamin D: the light side of sunshine.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011; 65(9): 986-993.
18. Tantawy, S.A. et al. “Effects of a proposed physical activity and diet control to manage constipation in middle-aged obese women.” Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy. 2017; 10: 513-519.
19. American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Another Reason to Exercise: Protecting Your Sight.” 2017. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Accessed on April 9, 2021. https://www.aao.org/newsroom/news-releases/detail/another-reason-to-exercise-protecting-your-sight
20. Harvard Health Publishing, “Tips to help you reach your exercise and weight loss goals.” 2012. Harvard Medical School. Accessed on April 9, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/tips-to-help-you-reach-your-exercise-and-weight-loss-goals
21. University Health Services, University of California, Berkeley, “Exercise: Starting a Walking Program.” 2021. University Health Services, University of California, Berkeley. Accessed on March 28, 2021. https://uhs.berkeley.edu/health-topics/exercise-starting-walking-program
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