If you’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle, exercise is an essential component. But starting an exercise routine can be intimidating. You might have questions about what type of exercise is right for you, your body and your lifestyle. No matter what your past experiences are, starting a new routine can be simple and painless. You could start by simply going for a walk or joining a free local walking group. Read on to learn how walking benefits your health and how you can find a great walking community at your local Walk with a Doc group.
Does Walking Count as Exercise?
Absolutely! You don’t need to invest in any equipment or gym memberships in order to exercise. Not only does walking count as exercise, it’s actually a fantastic form of exercise! There are many walking exercise benefits, and some of them might surprise you.
What type of walking counts as physical activity?
All walking is exercise. If you are moving your body, you are burning calories and experiencing other health benefits. You should walk at a pace and duration that is sustainable, which can look different for each person.
A walking speed of 2 to 3 mph is considered moderate, and most people will burn fat in this zone. Speeding up to 3 or 4 mph is more intense and will get your heart rate up and burn even more fat. If you are walking for your general well-being or for benefits other than weight loss, speed is less crucial.
A typical exercise recommendation for adults is 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every day. Aerobic exercise includes activities like swimming, walking, dancing, riding a bike and mowing the lawn. If you want to lose weight or reach other fitness goals, you’ll need to exercise more. However, the important thing to remember is that some amount of activity is better than no activity. Five minutes of walking is better than zero minutes!
Why Walking is Good For You: Surprising Scientific Benefits of Walking
Some walking exercise benefits are pretty obvious. For example, most people know walking burns calories and burning calories helps you lose weight. We know walking is generally good for you, but there are other health benefits of walking that might surprise you.
1. Walking raises your “good” cholesterol and lowers your “bad” cholesterol
A brisk 30-minute walk three times per week is enough to raise your “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) a few points. This amount of exercise, even without weight loss, is shown to improve your cholesterol levels. And if losing weight is one of your goals, dropping a few pounds can further lower your LDL cholesterol levels.
2. Walking relieves joint pain
For people who experience joint discomfort due to arthritis or other conditions, it is natural to try to avoid doing things that make the pain worse. Initial pain, fatigue and stiffness may discourage someone from exercising, but these things are shown to improve with regular exercise. Walking can strengthen muscles, build endurance and increase range of motion for stiff joints. Walking is a great habit for elderly people because it improves balance and helps prevent falls.
3. Walking boosts energy
Have you ever gotten home from a long day at work and decided not to exercise because you were too tired? As many as 1 in 4 people experience general fatigue not associated with any medical condition, and studies have shown that when inactive people add exercise to their routine, they start to have more energy. And it doesn’t take frequent, intense workouts to experience this benefit. A few low-intensity workouts every week is plenty to start feeling more energized. Next time you feel like taking a quick nap, try taking a quick walk instead.
4. Walking reduces anxiety and improves your mood
Walking causes your brain to produce endorphins, your body’s natural stress-reliever and pain-reducer. This means a walk can help you become more relaxed and can help combat the symptoms of stress and anxiety, and you don’t have to take a long walk to feel the effects. Just five minutes of aerobic exercise can start to stimulate these anti-anxiety effects. Walking can also decrease tension, stabilize your mood and help you sleep better.
5. Walking is good for your lungs (even if you have asthma!)
If you have asthma, you probably want to avoid things that can trigger an asthma attack. Walking is a safe and healthy form of exercise for all people, even people with asthma. When you exercise, your lungs take in more oxygen and expel more carbon dioxide. Establishing a regular walking routine keeps your lungs healthy and helps you maintain a large breathing reserve so that you are not frequently “out of breath.”
6. Walking improves your self-esteem
Developing a walking habit can improve body image and self-esteem. Yes, walking can help you lose weight, which may improve self-esteem, but you don’t have to lose weight to experience this walking benefit. As we mentioned earlier, walking triggers endorphin production, and endorphins make you feel good. When endorphins are paired with other walking exercise benefits, you experience an overall increase in well-being. You feel stronger, you have more energy and you start to generally feel good about yourself.
7. Walking promotes healthy digestion
We have discussed many benefits of walking associated with breathing, circulation, muscles and mental health, but what about your gut? Exercise can cure constipation by increasing blood flow to your stomach and intestines. The stress-relieving effects of a brief walk can help stop you from stress-eating after a tough day. One study showed that a 15-minute walk helped some people avoid giving in to a craving for a sweet treat.
8. Walking can help you sleep better
Not only can walking help prevent daytime sleepiness and fatigue (see #3), but a walk can also help you sleep better at night! Dozens of studies have been conducted on the connection between exercise and sleep, and the results are consistent. Participating in regular physical activity, like walking, has benefits comparable to those of sleeping medication or behavioral therapy.
9. Walking makes you more productive
One study conducted in Australia found that individuals who took a 30-minute walk over the lunch hour were more enthusiastic and more relaxed during the afternoon work hours. Another study has suggested that exercise can keep you mentally sharp in the long-term, making you more productive not just in an afternoon, but across your whole lifetime! The stress-relieving and mood-boosting effects of walking also contribute to your productivity at work and at home.
10. Walking can lead to clearer skin (and more!)
Sweating is good for your skin. If you start to work up a sweat while walking, it is helping to clear your pores of dead skin cells, dirt, bacteria and trapped oils. It’s still a good idea to shower or at least wash your face after vigorous exercise, but sweating is healthy for your body and your skin.
There are many, many more surprising walking exercise benefits than the ten on this list. Take a look at this list of 100 reasons to walk to find out more about how walking benefits your health.
Get Started Walking: Walk with a Doc
If you want to experience some of these walking exercise benefits, you don’t have to start the new habit all by yourself. Exercising with a friend, a loved one or a group can be more fun and more motivating. Exercising with someone else can also provide accountability and make you more likely to stick to a routine. We would love for you to join us for Walk with a Doc!
What is Walk with a Doc?
Walk with a Doc began in Ohio in 2005 and has since expanded throughout the world. The idea began when an Ohio physician decided to personally demonstrate the importance of regular physical activity and invite his patients to join him. Each Walk with a Doc meet-up includes a 5-10 minute casual health education talk led by a local physician, followed by a low-intensity group walk in a local park. All meet-ups are free.
Why should I join Walk with a Doc?
There are many benefits to the Walk with a Doc program:
- Walk with a Doc is good exercise. As we’ve discussed above, walking is really good for you.
- Walk with a Doc will teach you something. Before the walk, a local doctor will share on some health-related topic of their choosing. You’ll get to benefit from a doctor’s expertise in a casual setting.
- Walk with a Doc is a healthy social activity. These meet-ups are inclusive - anyone can join. And you’ll know that everyone attending is interested in walking and prioritizing their health. You might end up meeting someone who could become a regular walking buddy!
- Walk with a Doc makes doctors more approachable. This is a benefit for participating physicians and walkers who attend the meet-ups. Physicians who participate in Walk with a Doc like the simple, informal format, and walkers have reported feeling less intimidated by doctors after interacting with them in a casual setting.
How do I join Walk with a Doc?
Joining a Walk with a Doc meet-up is easy! They are always free, and you don’t need any fancy equipment or gear. You don’t even need to sign up - you can just show up! You can use this search tool to find a Walk with a Doc chapter that meets near you. If you live in Long Island, join us! Walk with a Doc - Hauppauge meets at Babylon Town Hall Park the last Sunday of each month.