We all know exercise is crucial for a long and healthy life. Consistent exercise is one of the most important things we can give to our bodies. But if you are a busy person, making time to exercise can seem impossible. Luckily, it does not need to be a big deal. Even 30 minutes of walking at least five days a week can have a huge impact. Here are just a few of the many ways that walking can change your life for the better.
1. Boost Your Metabolism
Our metabolism regulates how quickly and efficiently we burn energy. A strong metabolism helps us stay fit as we age. Even moderate exercise like walking several times a week significantly increases our basal metabolic rate.
The basal metabolic rate is the baseline level at which our metabolism functions at all times. The faster we walk and the steeper the incline, the greater the metabolic boost. A higher basal metabolic rate means that we burn more calories all the time, even long after the walk is over.
2. Improve Your Mood
I have never been sorry that I went for a walk. Whatever might be weighing on your mind or waiting on your to-do list, a good walk will help you get through it. Walking releases endorphins and other brain chemicals that make us feel happier. It also dispels mental fog and sluggishness so we can return to our tasks with more energy and clarity.
3. Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Those same brain chemicals also help relieve anxiety and reduce the likelihood of experiencing panic attacks. Walking channels our energy into something simple and productive, a great way to restrain the mental spinning that usually accompanies or causes anxiety.
And walking releases serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters associated with depression. Actually, any kind of moderate exercise can provide some of the same serotonin-boosting effect as anti-depression drugs.
4. Relieve Stress
Walking at a comfortable, moderate pace balances the autonomic nervous system and helps us relax. The increased oxygen use, calorie burn, and hormones released all work together to help us feel calmer. And any rhythmic activity such as walking stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with relaxation. The effects really kick in after the walk is over, when we often get that “walker’s high.”
5. Boost Immunity
Moderate exercise stimulates the immune system to release more virus-killing antibodies. It also flushes bacteria out of the lungs, which decreases the chance of getting a cold or other airborne illness.
While moderate exercise boosts the immune system, super-intense workout sessions and marathons actually depress the immune system for a few hours after the workout. Moderate to brisk walking is a great way to get the immune boosting benefits without overdoing it.
6. Increase Circulation
Walking stimulates the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. This supports the health of the heart, lungs, and all the organs, as toxins are flushed from the body and blood and lymph are moved through faster.
7. Prevent Heart Disease
Walking for at least 30 minutes a day, five or more days per week lowers blood pressure and decreases cholesterol levels. This, along with the increased metabolism and improved immunity, helps reduce the possibility of developing heart disease.
8. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Regular exercise is required to maintain our current weight as we age. The metabolism naturally slows down if we do not engage in some form of vigorous movement frequently to keep it boosted. People who do not exercise at all typically gain 1-2 pounds a year. People who walk moderately five days a week usually maintain their weight as long as their eating habits are consistently healthy. And people who walk for longer periods and with greater intensity tend to loose a couple pounds a year.
9. See the World Around You
Unlike exercising in your house or the gym, walking outside connects you to the world. Walking in your neighborhood can help you see people, places, art, trees, gardens, shops, and other things you might never notice if you only ever drive through it.
Walking in a forest or park is even more revelatory. It helps you connect with the rhythm of nature, which is very relaxing for mind and body. It also gives you the opportunity to walk on varied terrain and elevations, which is excellent for developing balance, coordination, and proprioception (spatial awareness). This variety also cultivates strength and flexibility in the connective tissue around the ankles and knees, which often gets underused when we only walk on flat sidewalks.
Walking is so good for us in so many ways. Just 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week can support the health of nearly every system in the body. Frequent moderate exercise is one of the key components to lasting, sustainable health, and walking fits the bill perfectly.