Walking has so many benefits for those of every fitness level, but yet it is one of the most underrated forms of physical activity out there, IMO anyway.
When I am working with clients who want to lose body fat and maintain a lean physique, I always have two recommendations—assuming activity is safe of course! The biggest dial mover (besides nutrition) is of course strength training, but leisure walking is the best bud of resistance training. It is the thing that most anyone can start if they aren’t already exercising. We hear a lot about the goal of getting 10,000 steps a day and this is for good reason. Most of us don’t move nearly enough. We sit in our cars. For most of us, our jobs involve several hours of sitting. Then we come home and sit and relax in the evening. For someone who is trying to improve their body composition, the lack of NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) is a major reason why they may be struggling with weight. Our bodies use more energy than you think when we are moving around doing things other than movement for formal exercise. Walking is a great way to increase this form of energy use by the body. Meaning in short, you will burn more calories.
While the body comp benefits are great, most people also do not recognize how much of an impact on their overall health it can have above and beyond weight loss.
Some people don’t think of walking when they think of exercise, but it does count toward the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity recommended by the CDC (if performed at a brisk pace). This article from the CDC gives a detailed breakdown of exercise recommendations by type of activity, duration, and frequency depending on age and desired health benefits.
While it may not be an endurance or resistance training form of activity, it is has SO MANY other benefits. When I am talking to my patients about their health and disease prevention, it is the first thing I recommend (beyond the routine screenings for their age/demographics/personal history).
- It is safe for almost everyone in the general population.
- It doesn’t require any special equipment.
- It can be done almost anywhere.
- It doesn’t put extra stress on joints.
- It can help with constipation.
- It helps with lowering stress hormone levels.
- It helps to boost mood and well being.
- It improves insulin sensitivity (this helps regulate blood sugar control).
- It can help lower blood pressure.
- It helps with controlling appetite and lowers cravings.
- It helps increase energy levels.
- It is a great way to spend time engaging in conversation with loved ones (we all need less screen time and more face-to-face engagement).
- It helps improve sleep quality.
- It has been linked to cancer prevention.
- It helps lower inflammation.
- It improves memory.
- It can help to lower bad cholesterol/triglyceride levels and raise good cholesterol levels.
- It helps preserve bone density and muscle mass, which becomes more important as we age.
- It improves problem solving ability.
- It stimulates creative thinking.
- It gets us outdoors and in nature (depending on where you are able to walk).
- The list goes on…this is by no means exhaustive.
My recommendation for most people is to include 20-60 minute leisure walks (i.e. a comfortable, but brisk pace—it does not need to be power walking) as frequently as possible (5 or more days per week). This can be done in addition to any other training program you may currently participate in, and frequency will depend on how much time you have available. The benefits are there even if you do smaller chunks of time walking too ( i.e. 10-15 minutes, 2-3 x a day to total the 20-60 minutes). Again see this article for the breakdown on all of the specific recommendations for physical activity.
In case you were wondering why I often use the hashtag #MyTxIs150, I get it from the CDC recommendation for a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity weekly. ‘Tx’ in medical lingo stands for therapy or treatment. So, the idea behind the hashtag is that my therapy/treatment (and my recommendation for others) for so many things (whether mental or physical) is exercise ❤
UPDATE: Here is a link to a good article with additional information on walking and one about the benefits of walking in nature.
1/ Do you leisure walk on a routine basis?
2/ Has your medical provider ever discussed the benefits of walking with you?