The Benefits of Walking
It Lowers the Rate of Weight Gain
Here’s proof that slow and steady trumps fast, furious, and inconsistent. A 2013 Australian study tracked the weight of 822 subjects and found that, over the course of four years, the average person gained 3.5 pounds. But the participants didn’t pack on the pounds equally. Those who walked to work gained, on average, two pounds less than did people who took their cars, even when the car commuters were physically active at other times of the day.
It Staves Off Dips in Energy
Big meals can wreak havoc on blood-sugar levels and leave you feeling sluggish, but not if you time your walks appropriately. A 2013 study published in Diabetes Care found that three 15-minute post-meal walks each day were more effective at regulating blood-sugar levels than was a single 45-minute walk midmorning or in the afternoon.
It Lifts Your Spirits
“Just 10 minutes of walking at the pace you would use if you were late for an appointment—but obviously without that stress of being late—can boost your mood for two hours,” says Robert Thayer, Ph.D., the author of Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood With Food and Exercise ($25, amazon.com). In his landmark 1984 study, Thayer asked volunteers to assess the severity of an ongoing personal problem (for example, weight gain or marital issues), then sent them on a 10-minute walk. Afterward, the subjects were asked to assess their problems again. This time they described their predicaments as less serious. Thayer found similar improvements in a second group of subjects who were asked to rate their level of optimism before and after a walk.
It Strengthens Memory
According to a 2011 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, elderly subjects who walked for 40 minutes three times a week for a year experienced a 2 percent average increase in size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion. Those who did stretching exercises instead saw their hippocampi decline in volume by 1.4 percent on average. It’s unclear what caused these changes, but Kirk Erickson, Ph.D., the lead author of the study, suspects that increased blood flow and growth in connections between cells may be contributing factors.
It Protects You From Heart Disease
Any activity that gradually gets your heart rate up is good for your cardiovascular health, and this is exactly what happens when you run or walk fast. But if that’s not your speed, there’s another option: walking longer. In a 2013 study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, both daily runners and walkers lowered their blood pressure by at least 4.2 percent and their risk of heart disease by at least 4.5 percent. To reach the calorie burn of a run, the walkers covered a distance about 1½ times farther than that of the runners.
It May Decrease Your Risk of Some Cancers
Any type of physical activity will improve metabolism, regulate hormone levels, and enhance immune function, and walking is no different. A 2005 study reported that colorectal cancer patients who exercised or simply walked for six or more hours a week were 60 percent less likely to die from the disease than were sedentary patients. More recently, an American Cancer Society study reported that an hour of daily walking may reduce a woman’s likelihood of a breast cancer diagnosis by 14 percent. More research needs to be done, but doctors are encouraged.