When it comes to exercise options, the sky is the limit. Experts agree that the best fitness routine is the one you stick with, and walking is a low-impact workout that requires nothing but a comfortable pair of sneakers and a few minutes of your time.
Marnie Doubek, MD, a primary care doctor at Atlantic Health System, shares the top five reasons she recommends walking to boost your health and wellbeing.
1. Weight loss
There’s no doubt one of the biggest reasons people start working out is to lose weight. People who briskly walk for 30 minutes burn roughly 150 calories, which is only slightly less than runners. When combined with healthy eating habits the two can lead to significant weight loss.
2. Improved overall health
When it comes to the benefits of walking, Dr. Doubek says it all adds up. Studies show that people who walk for two hours a week can lower their risk of death by 14%. And walking doesn’t just reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Moderate exercise also helps ward off arthritis, helps ease aches and pains, lowers your blood pressure, controls your blood sugar and improves your memory.
3. Mental health boost
Regular walkers are less likely to struggle with depression and anxiety. In addition to lowering stress levels, some studies have shown that regular exercise is as effective as medication for the treatment of some mental health concerns.
“I try to practice mindfulness while walking,” says Dr. Doubek. “Concentrating on the sounds of nature around me and the feeling of my feet on the sidewalk helps me focus on my breathing and relax.”
Walking outside or with a buddy can have added benefits. People who have a workout partner are more likely to stick to a routine, and consistency is the key to seeing benefits from any exercise program.
4. Better sleep and more energy
It seems that everywhere you look you see ads for sleep aids, teas and pills. And while it’s not uncommon for people to have difficulty falling asleep, walking can help with that too.
Dr. Doubek always recommends people first try physical activity to improve their quality of sleep. “Walking or other forms of exercise are better for you in every way.”
And just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week can also boost your energy levels, sometimes as much as a cup of coffee.
5. Digestive health
Improved digestive health is another benefit of a regular walking routine. Physical exercise is a great way to speed digestion and relieve constipation. In addition to increased regularity, walking can reduce gas and bloating. Aerobic exercise can also lower your stress levels and ease symptoms related to IBS and other conditions affected by the release of the hormone cortisol.
Besides the many health benefits of walking, Dr. Doubek points out that it’s a great way to explore your community and connect with friends. And for people who need a moment to themselves, it’s an excellent time to catch up on a podcast or listen to an audiobook.
The good news is that it doesn’t matter what time of day you walk, or whether you walk on a treadmill or outside. If you’re consistent with a walking routine, you’ll see results and know you’re doing something great for your overall health.
“We hear a lot about trying to take a certain number of steps in a day, and that’s a great goal,” says Dr. Doubek. “Walking is a wonderful activity whether you’re just starting out or aiming for 10,000 steps. Either way, the health benefits are there.”
Be Proactive About Your Health
To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.