How walking keeps you healthy from head to toe
by Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
Updated March 30, 2015.
From keeping your brain sharp and body slim and agile to boosting your immunity and lifting your mood, walking is the name of the game. It’s easy, takes no special equipment, and you can make it as vigorous — or as leisurely — as you like. But if you’re still mustering the motivation to lace up those kicks and hit the road, here are 11 ways walking keeps you head-to-toe healthy and happy.
- It boosts your immunity. Women who did the equivalent of a 45-minute walk five times a week were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold, according to a Washington University study.
- It staves off dementia. Walking is a natural memory booster, according to an Italian study published in the journal Neurology. Exercisers ages 65 and older who briskly walked just over five miles a week were 27% less likely to develop dementia than their couch potato peers. In another study presented in 2011 at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, walking actually increased the size of the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory formation.
- It keeps joints healthy. As little as 10 minutes a day may improve circulation and help to keep joints lubricated, staving off arthritis symptoms.
- It helps curb cravings. Meanwhile, 15 minutes of trekking can also help you say no to chocolate, reported University of Exeter researchers. When self-proclaimed chocoholics abstained from chocolate for three days, then either took a walk or rested before performing tempting activities such as opening a chocolate bar, they reported lower cravings following the walk.
- You could lose 10 pounds. Adding just one extra mile of walking a day burns enough calories to shed 10 pounds this year — without changing anything else.
- Even a little lifts your mood. But more is even better. Just 10 minutes a day was enough to boost walkers’ energy levels by 18%, according to one study. And in another study by researchers at the University of North Carolina, where women walked for either 30 or 60 minutes, three times a week, for six months, the 60-minute walkers saw four times the improvement in body confidence and can-do-it attitude.
- It gives harmful fats the boot. Walking beats running when it comes to lowering triglycerides, a type of blood fat linked with heart disease risk, according to a Duke University study. Walkers who logged 50 minutes four times a week lowered their triglyceride levels by more than 20% — twice as much as joggers in the same study.
- It helps your heart function better. Washington University researchers put people aged 50 to 60 on an exercise program. They walked briskly for about 45 to 60 minutes a day for a year. By the end of the program their hearts’ diastolic function, or ability to fill and relax more efficiently, had impoved. This is important, because having a heart that's "stiff" can lead to congestive heart failure.
- It keeps diabetes away — or lessens related risks. Daily walking is potent enough to reverse early symptoms of type 2 diabetes in as little as a week, University of Michigan researchers discovered. In just seven days, sedentary, pre-diabetic adults improved their insulin sensitivity by 59%. But a British Medical Journal study also found that less than an hour of walking, once a week, cut the risk of death from any cause — including diabetes — by 15%.
- It fights menopause symptoms. Watch out, hormone-triggered headaches and menopause-related weight gain: 25 minutes of walking a day yielded 44% fewer headaches and 22% fewer reports of weight gain among menopausal women.
- It slows down cancer. Regular exercise — including walking — has long been shown to decrease your risk of many diseases, including certain cancers. But according to new research published in the May 2011 issue of the journal Cancer Research, walking also makes a good weapon after you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Among men with prostate cancer, those who walked for at least three hours a week had a 57% lower rate of progression.
Natalie is a health and fitness writer, runner, and ACE-certified personal trainer based in Syracuse, New York.
Published August 23, 2011.
Reviewed by Joseph Sclafani, MD on April 10, 2015.