6 Unexpected Health Benefits of Walking

Walk your way to better sleep, strength, mood, and more incredible benefits.

Walking for 30 minutes every day can improve your health in more ways than you might expect. Not only is walking a fantastic, low-impact form of cardiovascular exercise, it can significantly improve your mental and emotional health, and help with every wellness goal from stress to sleep.

"Not many people recognize walking as a real workout. Perhaps it's too easy, too common, too enjoyable, or too relaxing to be considered a serious form of exercise," says Michael Lam MD, MPH, ABAAM, a physician specializing in nutrition and healthy aging. "[But] in fact, the best thing about this delightful activity is that it's one of the easiest exercises you can do on a consistent basis."

rear view of the feet of a woman runner in sneakers
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The challenge, however, is making walking (or consistent movement in general) a regular part of your daily routine. "Many health coaches, doctors, and fitness trainers will tell you that the best form of exercise is one you'll actually maintain," Dr. Lam says. To learn how to commit to walking 30 minutes (or more!) each and every day, we've asked medical experts to explain why making walking a daily priority is good for your entire body—and how to make a habit of it.

Daily Walking Benefits

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Walking improves heart health.

There's a reason walking is hailed as one of the best forms of exercise for heart health. The National Heart Foundation of Australia estimates that walking 30 minutes or more each day can actually lower the risk of heart disease, reducing the risk of stroke by a whopping 35 percent.

Plus, daily walking can help you maintain healthy weight, metabolism, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol, all of which help keep your heart healthy. Even if you can't commit to 30 minutes per day, evidence shows that even a small amount of walking is better than none when it comes to our hearts (yes, vigorous vacuuming, playing with the kids, walking the dog, and going on that long grocery run all count!).

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Walking lowers stress and improves mood.

It's no secret that exercise is a well-researched and proven way to reduce stress. Walking releases endorphins, a feel-good chemical in the body that promotes a state of pleasure like laughter and love. "Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain and bring about feelings of well-being, increased self-esteem, increased pain tolerance, and even a sense of euphoria, often referred to as a 'runner's high,'" Dr. Lam explains.

Walking truly does make you feel good. A 2018 study found that even single, brief 10-minute bouts of walking improved the mood state of participants. "Being active impacts the way that our brain processes neurotransmitters like dopamine," explains clinical psychologist Allison Grupski, PhD, vice president of behavior change strategies and coaching at WeightWatchers. "It has an immediate impact."

RELATED: 5 Things That Happen to Your Mental Health When You Don't Get Enough Exercise

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Walking reduces depression.

Research shows that physical activity, including walking, can reduce depression. A study of 121 post-menopausal women, for example, found that those who walked three times per week for 40 minutes at a time had a significant decrease in depression.

A second study discovered that even walking at a brisk pace for just 2.5 hours per week was associated with a significantly lower risk of depression, compared with adults who don't exercise. "Depression affects millions of people globally and is a leading cause of disability worldwide," says Brian Shinkle, DO, the medical director at Pivot Onsite Innovations and Pivot Occupational Health who specializes in occupational medicine. "Data has long shown the benefits of exercise on reducing depression."

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Walking strengthens your joints.

Shinkle says walking can play a huge role in reducing the development and progression of osteoarthritis, a form of arthritis that affects the joints. "Exercise has long shown benefits in treating and preventing osteoarthritis: A recent study shows that walking may improve pain and slow the progression of the disease," he says. Researchers found that people who walked for exercise had a 40 percent reduction in the development of new frequent knee pain when compared to a group that didn't walk. "Exercise [like walking] has numerous health benefits and should always be a first-line prevention and treatment approach to degenerative joint disease," Shinkle adds.

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Walking controls your blood sugar.

A meta-analysis of data from more than 300,000 participants made an important discovery: Those who walked regularly had a 30 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because walking can help control or lower blood sugar. Walking at a brisk pace in particular (faster than 20 minutes per mile) was linked with a 41 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes. A study of 201 people with type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, found that every additional 2,600 steps of walking each day was associated with a 0.2 percent lower A1c, or blood sugar level.

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Walking boosts immune function.

Another health benefit of walking every day: Researchers believe that exercise can significantly boost immune function, potentially causing a change in antibodies and white blood cells that help your body fight off illness. The temporary rise in body temperature may also prevent bacteria from growing while slowing down the release of stress hormones (which can increase your chance of illness). Plus, walking may flush bacteria from the lungs and airways, reducing your chances of picking up cold and flu viruses.

RELATED: If You Want to Boost Your Immune System, Adopt These 7 Healthy Habits Right Now

How to Make Walking an Everyday Habit

Grupski and Dr. Lam agree that walking is one of the best places to start when it comes to making movement a daily priority. "You don't need fancy equipment, you don't need to learn complicated moves, and you don't need special attire," Dr. Lam says. "You can just put on some good sneakers, comfortable clothes, and maybe listen to a good playlist. It's often gentle enough that even if your health is compromised, you can still get many of the benefits from 30 minutes a day of walking at a brisk pace."

Grupski says the first step to making walking a habit is to forget about keeping score. "We tend to get caught up in numbers," she says. "Those numbers can feel really daunting and actually get in the way of taking the first step." Instead, she encourages people to do what they can in the moment, whether that's three minutes of walking a few times a day or 30 minutes all at once.

These are some simple tricks Dr. Grupski recommends to sneak in extra steps. It's a process called piggybacking or habit stacking—tying new behaviors to familiar ones we already do.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park further away when running errands
  • Walk around the house while your coffee brews
  • Take a "walking meeting" instead of sitting at your desk
  • Walk around the field during the kids' sports practice

Whether you walk in segments or all at once, making walking a regular habit will help it become second-nature. "The more we do something regularly, the more likely we are to keep it up," Dr. Grupski says. "Repetition is key when it comes to habit development."

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