One Step at a Time: How Walking a Little Bit Every Day Can Boost Your Health in a Big Way

At first, walking may not seem like your ticket to a healthier lifestyle.

After all, we live in a day and age of a flurry of apps and “revolutionary” new workout styles that make walking seem outdate. We’re going to talk about the benefits of walking, but before we do, we just want to point one thing out.

Half of all Americans don’t get the amount of exercise they should, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control (and many other government agencies) is 150 minutes a week of moderate activity. So, our guess is that there’s really good chance you don’t exercise regularly and you’re looking for ideas on how to start.

Related: How Walking Became Boring and Why You Need to Bring it Back Into Your Life

Well, you’ve come to the right place. In the next few minutes we’re going to take a look at how walking benefits us, how to make it fun and why it could be a great fit for you. You’ll be surprised how the simple act of taking a stroll can be just what you need to strengthen your body.

How exactly does walking benefit our bodies?

When you compare to the calorie burning potential of a good run (about 250 calories in 30 minutes) to walking (about 250 calories in 80 minutes), you might wonder what benefits there are to such a gentle exercise. And we think that’s a great question.

We’ve found that our tendency, especially in things like working, is to judge an activity by its efficiency. We want the option that gives us the most benefit in the least amount of time. But that’s not how walking is. Think of it like a savings account. Every time you walk, you put a few bucks in the piggy bank.

After, let’s say, one year of walking 30 minutes five times a week, that once empty savings jar is now packed full of money. 

Now, all of this is based on some simple science. When you walk, you’re using a lot of key body parts: the calves, the hips (and hip flexors), the back and the butt. Each one of these areas gets a decent workout each time you set out for a walk. 

But these are just the basics. Researchers have found that the simple act of walking on a regular basis can have some pretty profound effects on your long term health. 

It’s great for people with ongoing arthritis

A 2014 article by the Centers for Disease Control pointed out that arthritis patients who walk have been proven to show signs of “improved arthritis pain, fatigue, function and quality of life.”  In fact, a 2001 overview study reported that aerobic activities like walking decreased hospitalizations and work disability.

We believe walking is an excellent solution for those who deal with ongoing arthritis. Though the idea of exercising is counter-intuitive when you’re dealing with join pain, it’s proven to provide relief.

It reduces your cravings for sweets

Scientists from the University of Exeter in England conducted a simple study with 78 people who consistently ate chocolate. Participants didn’t eat chocolate for two days. Then, about half of them walked 15 minutes on a treadmill before doing a simulated work task. The other group didn’t walk at all. Chocolates were available in the simulated work environment.

The results? Those who walked were 50% less likely to consume chocolate while working.

Now, this type of experiment isn’t the most exact. They didn’t identify what happens in the body to curb the sweet tooth after exercise. But we do believe there is something important there and that it never hurts to replace your chocolate cravings with a 15-minute walk.

It can reduce genetic obesity effects by half

A study published in 2012 indicated that 1 hour of brisk walking every day can reduce the effect of obesity-inducing genes by half. On the flip side of the coin, the study revealed that the effect of these genes were increased by half when subjects did not exercise but remained sedentary.

We think this is an important study because it shows you both sides of the fitness spectrum – what happens when you do walk and what happens when you don’t. We also believe that, based on this study, people who may feel powerless over their genetic tendency toward obesity can find hope in a brisk, 1-hour walk each day.

And remember, you don’t have to do the entire hour in one shot. You can break your walk into four 15-minute chunks.

It reduces the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer

In 2012, researchers published a study in which they discovered that women who walked 7 hours or more per week had a 14% less chance of getting breast cancer than women who walked 3 hours or less.

We believe these results are an encouraging sign for women because it proves that you can increase your chances of not having breast cancer simply by walking about one hour a day. In fact, women who did more strenuous exercise had a 25% less risk of getting breast cancer than the least active women in the study.

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It helps you get sick less often

The National Institutes of Health published an article about how exercise can cut down on your sick days. There’s a possibility that all the heavy breathing from exercising flushes out bacteria and viruses from your airways and lungs. Also, the rise in body temperature you experience while walking could help fight off bacteria.

Though these principles are true for exercise in general, we think it’s important for you to know that you can get these benefits from just 20-30 minutes of walking per day.

…and it can help with a lot of other health issues.

We came across a great article by Mayo Clinic about the benefits of walking. Aside from what we’ve already listed, walking can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and lower your chances of a heart attack.

How to make walking a little more fun

We’ll totally admit that walking isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. 

Here’s a few tips for making it fun: 

  • Use a step counter: Fitbit and other companies make small devices that track your steps. 10,000 a day is a good target.
  • Mix it up: Find local hiking trails, volunteer to walk a neighbor’s dog or walk to a local shop. Making walking a part of your daily routine will make it easier to be consistent.
  • Change intensity levels: If you want to add a challenge, carry a pair of small dumbbells, walk up flights of stairs or bump up your pace.

Each of these options appeals to a different sort of person. We think it’s best that you find the variable that connects with you the most. If you’re competitive, find another pedometer user and keep track of how many steps each of you logs each day. If you’re a visual person, changing up the route to include new scenery will be helpful.

Why walking could be a great fit for you

Have you ever walked into a gym just to check it out and felt instantly overwhelmed by all the machines and the intense people using them? Weights rise and fall. Treadmills hum. Ellipticals rock back and forth. It can be intimidating. 

Now, imagine walking into a CrossFit-style gym where there’s a lot of super intense action going on. Sweat is pouring off bodies. Teeth are gritting. These types of places aren’t for the faint of heart, and definitely not for the average person who’s looking to start an exercise routine.

Walking requires no membership fee, no special equipment, no special location or facility & nearly anyone can do it.

The truth is, if the average person decides to start exercising, they usually end up in one of the two scenarios we described. And, there’s a good chance they’ll feel intimidated or overwhelmed. That’s not a good start to a new lifestyle. 

We believe that walking is the key to jump starting your fitness habits for many of the reasons we’ve already talked about. But we also think it’s a great exercise for you start with (or transition to) because the barriers to entry are really low. 

Walking requires no membership fee, no special equipment (unless you want a pedometer), no special location or facility and nearly anyone can do it. It’s an activity that’s available to people no matter how much money they make, where they live or what they do for work. Few exercises offer the huge health benefits at such a low cost. 

Our conclusions about walking

We believe that research shows walking is a pretty phenomenal way to begin your journey toward better health. But it’s not just about beginning an exercise routine; continuing a habit of walking is equally as important to your overall wellbeing. 

We know that we live in a world where paid memberships to the gym are the norm. New apps and high-intensity workout programs are trending like crazy. But these types of workouts and memberships aren’t for everyone. 

The beauty of a consistent lifestyle of walking is that it’s something that nearly every age group can do. Families can walk together. Kids can walk. Grandparents can walk (even if it’s at a more leisurely pace). And everyone benefits from it.

When we’re looking for a new workout or exercise plan, it’s easy to get caught up in finding the silver bullet…that one workout that tops all the others.

Our advice is this: if you’re just starting out and you want an easy routine where you won’t feel out of place or overwhelmed, walk. Your body, the research shows, will thank you with every step you take.

In the meantime, if you’ve though about a holistic approach to better health, we’ve written some great articles on how to care for your body. 

Check out our guide to 2015 diet trends to find out which ones worked and which ones didn’t. If you’re thinking about trying supplements to improve your health, read our guide to understanding how supplement companies use tricks and sleight-of-hand to get you to buy their stuff.


J.R. Duren

J.R. is an award winning journalist who uncovers the hard truths about personal finance, health and fitness through in-depth research and interviews with experts.


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