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What Walking Actually Does for Your Health.

Think about the last time you went out walking.

 

Was it indoors or outdoors?

Did you go with someone or was it a solo excursion?

Did you see anything cool or walk away with any neat insights?

How did you feel afterwards?

 

Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise that can help to improve your overall health- both mental and physical!

 

Health benefits of walking.

Great opportunity for fresh air.

Fresh air and exercising outdoors are particularly good for you, especially in areas like parks or nature reserves.

 

Increases stamina.

Walking is considered cardio exercise, which means that it engages your heart and lung muscles. Regularly walking builds and boosts your stamina by increasing your lung capacity and strengthening your heart. This is great for when you want to keep up with grandkids or explore all the wonders of the world.

 

Improves your overall heart health.

Your heart is a special type of muscle, and it requires regular exercise to keep it strong and working efficiently. Walking regularly can help to lower blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, and lowering cholesterol levels in your blood.

 

Helps you to sleep better.

Have you ever noticed that on a day where you did a significant amount of yard work, walked around all day, or competed at a sporting event, that you slept like a log that evening? (Save for if you exercised too closely to bedtime or if you got injured that day.) While researchers are still looking into exactly why exercise improves your sleep quality, they theorize that it is because it raises your core temperature, alleviates symptoms of anxiety and depression, and may realign your internal body clock.

You don’t always need to physically exhaust yourself to be able to sleep well, though! Doing a single 30-minute exercise session (and walking counts!) is enough to improve your sleep quality that night!

 

A cat sleeps snuggly in between the bedding.

 

Improves focus and concentration.

Walking, especially outdoors, reduces the amount of stimuli that you are exposed to, while encouraging your body to work off excess energy. Often, if you work with a computer in even a somewhat busy area, you are constantly exposed to many little things that can pull your mind in a million direction.

Take a moment to look around you. Notice the bright light of your phone or computer screen, the number of colours on the page, and any busy ads you might stumble across. How many different sounds or conversations do you hear? What is the temperature and humidity like, especially with artificial air conditioning?

Now, the next time you walk around a quiet grove of trees (or similar landscape), notice how the colours are gentle on your eyes, everything smells fresh, and the natural sounds soothingly wash over you.

Allowing your mind this little break is enough to significantly improve your ability to concentrate.

 

Reduces stress and improves your mood.

Walking releases endorphins, which helps to improve your mood. It encourages you to physically move and release tension, which is a great stress reliever. It gives you a chance to pause, which can help you come up with solutions and feel better about life overall.

 

Boosts your energy.

It may feel counterintuitive that when you’re feeling exhausted is when you should exercise, but often that is when your body needs it most. A short walk or a quick stretching session can revitalize you and help you to feel restored. Whether you need a just quick boost in the afternoon or you are handling with some significant amounts of stress, exercise can calm your mind and energize your body.

 

Reduces joint pain.

Much like stretching, walking improves circulation and helps to lubricate your joints. Our bodies are designed to move, which is why that bed rest is usually only recommended for a just few days before engaging in gentle movement again.

That being said, if you are feeling any pain while walking, such as in your knees or hips, be sure to see your health care provider as soon as possible, as there could be an underlying issue, such as misalignment, muscle damage (strains), or joint sprains.

 

An older woman walks along the beach with her dog.

 

Inspires creativity and problem-solving.

How often have you heard that someone took a walk to “clear their head”? Many times, if you are stuck on a problem, you’re having trouble processing something, or you’ve just been doing something for too long, going on a walk can often inspire you and change your perspective.

 

Common questions about walking.

Is walking fast 15-20 minutes good for your health?

Yes! The commonly recommended amount of exercise is 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, which breaks down to about 20 minutes a day. A brisk 15-20 minute walk is also a great break to incorporate into your day, as it helps to improve your focus, energizes your body, and it strengthens your lungs and heart.

 

Which is better: one 30-minute walk or two 15-minute ones?

This is a great question, and the answer is: whichever one works best for you.

We have found that with stretching, one long routine has a similar effect as multiple shorter routines that equal the same amount of time. You don’t have to rearrange your entire schedule, instead incorporate your walking into your daily routine.

If you have 10 minutes in the morning to go for a quick walk around work, then another 20 minutes on your lunch break, that is great! This helps you to feel energized for the second half of your day.

Planning a daily 30-minute walk with a loved one or child is a great chance to bond and connect with them while getting your daily exercise in. They will love spending the quality time with you!

The trick is to make going for a walk as easy for yourself as possible. You can do this by incorporating it into activities you are already doing, investing in a good pair of supportive walking shoes, or using it as an opportunity to socialize.

 

A family goes walking on a path in a wood, with the mother and son walking together.

 

How does walking lower blood pressure?

Walking lowers your blood pressure by training your heart to work more efficiently.

Your heart is a muscular organ comprised of a special kind of tissue called cardiac muscle. Similarly to how you can strengthen your bicep or ab muscles by exercising, you can strengthen your heart as well, as it needs to work hard to match your blood flow to the intensity of your exercise.

As your heart gets stronger and learns how to pump blood more efficiently, it decreases the arterial pressure needed to move the blood from your heart to your arteries. As that force decreases, it decreases your overall blood pressure.

Using exercise to lower your blood pressure is not one and done, rather it is an something that needs to be done regularly to keep your heart healthy and strong.

 

How much should I walk in a day?

Ideally, you should walk 10,000+ steps a day. Humans were not designed to be sedentary creatures and walking is good for us. However, if this is significantly greater than what you are doing right now, then don’t push yourself to immediately get 10,000 steps in. When you drastically change your fitness levels without proper preparation, you can easily get injured, which can cause you to regress on any progress you may have made.

If you’ve been staying at home, chances are that you’ve only been doing somewhere in the 500-3,000 step range. To increase your daily step count safely, follow these tips:

Add stretching into your daily routine.

This helps to prevent injuries and primes your joints for increased movement.

 

Start small but be consistent.

If you’ve been doing 2,000 steps each day, try increasing your goal to 2,500. Write it down somewhere, such as a note on the fridge or in your journal, as the visual reminder and the act of recording your progress will keep you motivated!

 

Gradually increase your steps.

Listening to your body, increase your daily step goal every few days/ weeks. In the beginning, you may be able to add a couple thousand steps easily but find your body fatiguing as you get closer to 10,000.

That’s okay! Don’t push yourself too hard, and ensure that you’re taking care of your overall health. (Sleeping, eating enough, taking a day off to rest, etc.)

 

Listen to your hunger cues.

As you start moving more, your body will require more fuel. Be sure to nourish yourself regularly with carbs, proteins, and fats. (A snack like these energy bite balls are a great option!)

 

Switch up your walking habits.

Visit new neighbourhoods or parks, or when the weather is bad, use this as a great excuse to go window shopping! (And if you end up going real shopping, you’re getting some weight training in too! 😉) Invite a friend along so you can catch up as you walk. Join a walking group to meet new people. Make your walking adventures enjoyable for yourself.

 

A woman ventures down a mountain road, surrounded with trees, a backpack on her back.

 

Can you lose weight by walking?

While walking can help with weight loss, it isn’t the most efficient method, nor should weight loss be the driving motivation during your excursions. Everyone loses weight differently, but for the best results, work with a certified coach or doctor.

Specialists can help you find exercises for your body type and teach you how to eat healthily (without a punitive approach). One of the keys to achieving and maintaining weight loss is uncovering why you might be struggling with your weight (such as image issues or a hormonal imbalance). By seeking to improve your mental health, self-worth, and physical health, you will notice much better results overall.

 

Conclusion

Walking is a great way to improve your overall health, regardless of age, especially if you’re new to exercise. A quick walk around your neighbourhood is enough to revitalize you, get your body moving and feeling great, as well as can help to improve your overall health. Time to lace on your walking shoes and enjoy the fresh air!

 

Any links included are for reference, additional information, or entertainment value only, without monetary compensation. Contact us on social media or at team@westretch.ca. Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

This article is not intended to act as or replace medical advice. Please talk to your health care practitioner if you have any concerns.

 

Written by Kayla Willsey