How a Stroll Can Boost Your Health

Cropped SingleCare logo By | April 1, 2016

Getting exercise to stay healthy doesn’t have to include a strict regimen of weightlifting and long runs. In many cases, a brisk walk will do just fine.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint — so they say. But what if you don’t like running? Well, you’re in luck, because health-wise a quiet stroll may do the trick. Evidence is mounting that taking regular walks improves your overall mental and physical health, while reducing your risk of some diseases.

Slow and Steady

It might come as a surprise that walking is one of the most effective exercises you can do. Since it’s not aerobic and is really just a basic human movement, can we gain without pain, according to Harvard. A University College of London meta-analysis reviewed 18 studies that evaluated about 460,000 people combined over an average of 11.3 years.

Participants who walked reduced the risk of “cardiovascular events” (things like heart attack, angioplasty, and stroke) by 31% and reduced the overall risk of death by 32%. The study found that by just walking 5.5 miles a week, at a pace of 2 miles per hour, people achieved these remarkable health benefits.

Perhaps most incredibly, walking may be as effective exercise as running, according to the NIH. After looking at two studies of over 33,000 runners and 15,000 walkers, researchers found that for the same amount of energy used, “walkers experienced greater health benefits than runners.” Runners saw a 4.5% reduction in heart disease, while walkers saw more than double that at 9.3%. That is not to say running is worse than walking, but exercise doesn’t have to be a fast-paced endeavor to be good for you.

Keep On Climbing

Adding brisk walks to your daily schedule can help you maintain a healthy weight, according to Mayo Clinic, protect you against cardiovascular disease, improve balance and coordination, strengthen your bones, and lift your mood. Like all moderate exercise, walking also lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, limits the risk of diabetes, obesity, and vascular stiffness, among others positive health impacts. Walking up stairs is even more beneficial, as it helps you reach peak exertion level much faster than strolling alone.

Where you walk can also impact your mental health. Studies have shown that strolling through lush, green spaces (i.e. nature) can increase both your attentiveness and your happiness, according to the New York Times. In fact, spending 90 minutes in a “brief nature experience” decreases blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex — the area of the brain associated with morbid rumination or negative thinking, according to the PNAS journal. Those who walk in parks or trails report less anxiety, rumination, and negative affect than those who walk in urban environments.

Get Moving

Adults need a recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, which translates to only five 30-minute walks. Start slow with 3 shorter, 10-minute strolls to build up to a half hour. Proper form can make a world of difference, so keep your head up, and your neck, back and shoulders relaxed. Engage your core and keep your back straight while gently swinging your arms to maintain a smooth step from heel to toe. Walk to work or to the train if you can, and use the stairs over the elevator at every (sensible) opportunity. Cut out short drives for a quick walk, and you’ll reduce your carbon emissions while improving your health.

While you walk your way to fitness, make sure to take a stroll to your doctor’s, too. It’s important to monitor your well-being with regular checkups, and physicians can be great motivators as well. If you don’t have a doctor or are worried about expenses, use SingleCare’s database to search for a practitioner in your area. As a SingleCare member, you pay only for the treatments you need, at the same negotiated prices insurance companies pay. The road to excellent health starts with the taking that first step.

(Main image credit: mladensky/Thinkstock)