BY MEGHAN RABBITT
Taking a 30-minute walk a day is kind of like that proverbial apple: There's a good chance it'll keep the doctor away.
From helping you lose weight and de-stress to lowering your blood pressure and reducing your risk of many chronic diseases, going for regular walks is one of the best and easiest things you can do for your health, says Melina B. Jampolis, MD, author of The Doctor on Demand Diet.
"Walking is the number one exercise I recommend to most of my patients because it is very easy to do, requires nothing but a pair of tennis shoes, and has tremendous mental and physical benefits," she says. Here's what you can expect when you start walking for just 30 minutes every day, most days of the week.
You know how sometimes it takes a glass of wine or a square (or three) of dark chocolate to blunt the edge of a rough day? Well, going for a walk is a zero-calorie strategy with the same benefits, says Dr. Jampolis.
"Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you'll experience a decrease in anger and hostility," she says. What's more, when you make your walks social — you stride with, say, your partner, a neighbor, or a good friend — that interaction helps you feel connected, says Dr. Jampolis, which boosts mood. Finally, walking outdoors exposes you to natural sunlight, which can help stave off seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — making it a potential antidote for the winter blues, says Dr. Jampolis.
Your creative juices will start flowing
Whether you're feeling stuck at work or you've been searching for a solution to a tricky problem, research shows it's a good idea to get moving: According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory, and Cognition, going for a walk can spark creativity. "Researchers administered creative-thinking tests to subjects while seated and while walking and found that the walkers thought more creatively than the sitters," says Dr. Jampolis.
You'll burn calories and lose weight
This one may seem obvious, but it's certainly a happy benefit for those who start walking regularly, says Dr. Jampolis. "As you continue to walk, you may notice your pants begin to fit more loosely around your midsection, even if the number on the scale isn't moving much," she says. "That's because regular walking can help improve your body's response to insulin, which can help reduce belly fat."
Ariel Iasevoli, a personal trainer at Crunch gyms in New York City, adds that walking every day is one of the most effective low-impact ways to mobilize fat and positively alter body composition. "Daily walking increases metabolism by burning extra calories and by preventing muscle loss, which is particularly important as we get older," says Iasevoli. The best part? You don't have to slog it out on a treadmill at the gym to see these benefits. "One of my clients reduced her body fat by 2 percent in just one month by walking home from work each day, which was just under a mile," she says.
The secret to walking off the weight: intervals, says Michele Staten, a walking coach and author of Prevention's Walk Your Way to Better Health. "Interval walking really cranks up your afterburn, the calories you burn long after your official walk is over," Stanten says. To add intervals, warm up for 3 minutes. Then spend 25 minutes alternating between 1 minute of fast walking (almost as fast as you can go) and 1 minute of brisk walking (aiming for a 6 on a 1 to 10 intensity scale). Then cool down for two minutes.
You'll reduce your risk of chronic disease
The statistics are impressive: The American Diabetes Association says walking lowers your blood sugar levels and your overall risk for diabetes. Researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado and the University of Tennessee found that regular walking lowered blood pressure by as much as 11 points and may reduce the risk of stroke by 20 to 40 percent. One of the most cited studies on walking and health, published in a 2002 study in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that those who walked enough to meet physical activity guidelines (30 or more minutes of moderate activity on five or more days per week) had a 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not walk regularly.
"The physical benefits of walking are well documented," says Scott Danberg, director of fitness at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami. With impressive results like these, there's a good chance you'll get a pat on the back from your doc at your next checkup.
For disease prevention, longer walks are key, says s Stanten. Include a longer, hourlong walk once or twice a week, she says.
You'll keep your legs looking great
As you age, your risk of unsightly varicose veins increases — it's just not fair. However, walking is a proven way to prevent those unsightly lines from developing, says Luis Navarro, MD, founder, and director of The Vein Treatment Center in New York City.
"The venous system includes a circulatory section known as 'the second heart,' which is formed by muscles, veins, and valves located in our calf and foot," he explains. "This system works to push blood back up to the heart and lungs — and walking strengthens this secondary circulatory system by strengthening and preserving leg muscle, which boosts healthy blood flow."
If you already suffer from varicose veins, daily walking can help ease related swelling and restlessness in your legs, says Dr. Navarro. "Also, if you are genetically predisposed to have varicose and/or spider veins, walking daily can help delay the onset."
Your digestion will improve
If you currently praise coffee for keeping your digestive system going strong, get ready to start thanking your morning walk instead. That's because a regular walking routine can greatly improve your bowel movements, says Tara Alaichamy, DPT, a physical therapist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. "One of the very first things an abdominal surgery patient is required to do is to walk because it utilizes core and abdominal muscles, encouraging movement in our GI system," she says.
Your other goals will start to seem more reachable
When you become a regular walker, you will have established a regular routine — and when you have a routine, you are more likely to continue with the activity and take on new healthy behaviors. "I firmly believe that walking regularly can help you to accomplish other goals you set your mind to," says Kim Evans, a personal trainer, and daily walker.
You'll protect your joints
Contrary to what you might think, pounding pavement can help improve your range of motion and mobility because walking increases blood flow to tense areas and helps strengthen the muscles surrounding your joints. In fact, research shows that walking for at least 10 minutes a day — or about an hour every week — can stave off disability and arthritis pain in older adults. An April 2019 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine followed 1,564 adults older than 49 years old with lower-body joint pain. Participants were asked to to walk for an hour each week. Those who didn't walk for at least an hour each week reported that they were walking too slowly and had issues performing their morning routine, while participants who stuck with their walking routine had better mobility.
You'll boost your immunity
It turns out that putting one foot in front of the other could help reduce your risk for disease and promote longevity. Research from Arthritis Research & Therapy suggests that high-intensity interval walk training can help improve immune function in older adults with rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease that affects the joints. A recent studyfrom Chronic Respiratory Disease also shows that walking may help patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) reduce their morbidity and mortality risk. Patients with COPD tend to be overweight or obese because they're unable to exercise for longer periods of time and may find it hard to breathe during intense movements. But walking can help improve symptoms and lower their risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, among other things.
You'll live longer
Ever wonder how people from Blue Zones are able to live to 100? Their secret to a longer and healthier life involves walking and getting outside. A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that older adults, between the ages of 70 and 90, who left the house and were physically active lived longer than those who didn't. Staying active also helps you stay connected to loved ones and friends who can provide emotional support, which is especially important as you age.
You'll sleep better at night
If you work out regularly, you know that you'll sleep better at night. That's because sleep naturally boosts the effects of melatonin, the sleep hormone. A 2019 study from Sleepfound that postmenopausal women who do light to moderate intensity physical activity snooze better at night than those who are sedentary. Walking also helps reduce pain and stress, which can cause sleep disturbances.
SOURCE: PREVENTION MAGAZINE