Walking benefits: 118 health benefits of walking

Posted on 27 September, 2021 by Nicholas Rizzo

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The importance of exercise is well known, but in order to demonstrate the importance of walking and why walking is such a great form of exercise, we spent 75 hours, analyzing over 200 studies to provide a comprehensive review of the benefits of walking. These 118 reasons to walk everyday are broken down by their benefits for: 

 

Benefits of walking for heart health

Over a hundred studies have demonstrated the significant benefit of walking for heart health. Showing that it can prevent future heart disease, improve blood pressure and lipid profiles, while also being a significant aid to rehabilitation after a cardiac event. 

Heart disease

  • Regular walking reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 11%.
  • The risk incidence of coronary heart disease was lowered by 9.3% in people who regularly walked over a 6.2-year period.
  • 30 minutes of walking, 5 or more times a week, can reduce the risk of coronary heart diseases (CHD).
  • Stroke patients who participated in walking groups decrease their risk of death by 81%.
  • After a myocardial infarction (MI), men who walked 2.5 hours a week at a pace of less than 3 mph reduced all-cause mortality by 27%.
  • Walking at a pace of more than 3 mph lowers the risk of all-cause mortality by 38% in people who suffered from MI.
  • People aged 72 years or younger who walked at a pace of less than 3 mph lowered their risk of having CHD, stroke, and CVD by 50%, 53%, and 50%, respectively.

Stroke rehabilitation

  • After a stroke, one of the therapies recommended for patients to regain control of their body is walking.
  • Stroke patients showed 29% improvement in peak VO2 levels after 3 months of walking rehabilitation.
  • Walking exercises done 30-50 minutes for 3 times a week over a period of 13 weeks improved the walking distance of stroke patients by 21%.
  • Aerobic exercise, like walking, was found to improve long-term memory recovery by 61%. 
  • Bodyweight-support treadmill training done 20 mins a day, 3 times a week, over 12 weeks, significantly improved the balance of stroke patients with weakness on one side of the body.

Blood pressure

  • After 12 weeks of brisk walking, older adults showed lower systolic blood pressure (SBP) by as much as 8.3- 22.6mmHg, depending on whether they are resting or exercising.
  • People with hypertension experienced lower blood pressure after 12 weeks of regular walking.
  • 2-4 hours of leisure-time daily walking reduces diastolic blood pressure of older adults.
  • Older people with hypertension can lower their diastolic blood pressure by walking 30 minutes to 2 hours a day.
  • After 6 months of guided walking, participants of the study with an SBP of less than 160 mmHG showed the greatest decrease (-21.3 mmHg) compared to those with lover values.

Cholesterol and lipid profiles 

  • In a study conducted in 6.2 years, there was a 7% reduction in incidents of high cholesterol in people who walked regularly.
  • People who walk 2.5-4 hours or more a week have half the cholesterol levels of those who do not engage in any physical activities.
  • Participating in walking groups can reduce cholesterol levels by 0.11 mmol/L.
  • Group walks can reduce systolic blood pressure by 3.72 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.14 mm Hg.

 

Benefits of walking as exercise for physical fitness

Walking may seem like a simple activity but it is a great way to improve your overall physical fitness. Walking enjoys all the same benefits of cardio overall; taking walks daily has been shown to improve muscle hypertrophy, strength, flexibility, endurance, conditioning, and even recovery. Modifying the type of walking you are doing by using poles, increasing intensity, adding weights, or just walking at an incline can lead to significantly enhanced benefits. 

Muscle, strength, and conditioning

  • After 17 weeks of progressive walking training, hypertrophy was noticeable at the anterior and posterior parts of the thigh.
  • Knee extension strength increased by 13% in middle-aged persons who participated in 5 months of interval walking training.
  • Interval walking training improved knee flexion strength by 17% after a 5-month study period.
  • Middle-aged people who took up walking for 12 weeks showed 77% improvement in their maximal walk endurance time.
  • 12 weeks of walking increased the distance covered by study participants by 92%.
  • Walking facilitates faster lactic acid removal from the muscle after vigorous exercise which hastens muscle recovery and reduces fatigue.

Nordic walking for strength

Most of the muscles involved in walking are in the lower parts of the body. The use of walking poles can intensify walking and target the muscles of the arms and chest.

  • Upper limb flexibility improved by 44.6% after 12 weeks of Nordic walking.
  • Flexibility in the lower limb based on a sit-and-reach test increased by 75.4% after 12 weeks of pole walking.
  • 16 weeks of Nordic walking can enhance lower limb strength by 17.9%.
  • Nordic walking for 9 weeks showed arm strength improvement of 19.7%
  • Handgrip strengthened by 11.8% after 12 weeks of Nordic walking.

 

Benefits of walking for seniors and older adults

Seniors are often perceived as frail but hundreds of studies have shown that increasing physical activity can improve their overall well-being and even reduce health risks. While we have demonstrated the benefits of strength training for seniors previously, walking also significantly improves health for older adults and seniors (and any age for that matter!). 

  • After 8-weeks of walking meditation that focuses on leg movements while walking, participants showed a 7.9% improvement in their balance.
  • Nordic walking, or walking with a pole, can increase static balance by 133.9% after doing the activity for 12 weeks.
  • 6 weeks of Nordic walking results in a 4.5% improvement in functional balance.
  • After 3 months of Nordic walking, significant improvement in cognitive function and perceived quality of life were observed in female seniors.
  • A study conducted among 50-year-olds revealed that endurance training, which included walking, reversed the age-related decline in aerobic power. 
  • Based on a 16-month study, fall risk is 39% lower in those that participated in walking training compared to those who underwent balance training.
  • People with severe sarcopenia can expect an added 0.4 years of life expectancy just by increasing their gait speed by 0.1 m/s.

 

Benefits of walking for the prevention and management of diabetes

Over 400 million people in the world have been diagnosed with diabetes. We know intense exercises, such as rowing machines or HIIT benefits those trying to prevent and or manage their diabetes. But even though walking is a low-intensity, low-impact form of exercise, it still is incredibly effective.

  • 10,000 steps a day can lower the risk of developing diabetes by 5.5%.
  • People with type 2 diabetes can reduce their blood glucose level by 52.7% doing 40 minutes of treadmill walking HIIT compared to just sitting.
  • Fasting blood sugar of brisk walkers is 3.2% lower than those who walk slow.
  • On average, brisk walkers have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • People with type 2 diabetes who aren’t insulin-dependent can reduce blood glucose level by replacing 4.7 hours of sitting with walking or light exercise.
  • A study conducted on people on metformin revealed that 30 minutes of post-meal walking enhances the drug’s blood sugar lowering effect by 21%.
  • Walking reduced the risk incidence of diabetes mellitus by 12.3% in a period of 6.2 years.
  • Walking continuously for 30 minutes improved insulin sensitivity in healthy young adults.

 

Benefits of walking for mental health and emotional health

“Take a walk.” How many times have you heard this when you’re faced with tense situation? It may seem trivial but I’m sure you’ve probably felt better after a quick walk to blow off some steam because walking does help make you feel better. 

  • In a study of 585 individuals, 15 minutes of walking in the forest reduced the feeling of depression and dejection in 31.1% of the participants.
  • Walking 3 to 7 times a week had a more positive effect on mental health compared to walking for longer hours per day.
  • Depression scores were lowered by 0.67 in people that participated in group walking.
  • Walking 30 minutes a day, 5 or more times a week, has been proven to help reduce anxiety and stress in adults.
  • Children with ADHD who were trained in backward walking committed 45.9% fewer mistakes in focus-related testing.
  • 20 minutes of walking in the park increased the focus of kids with ADHD.

 

Benefits of walking for brain health

Walking increases dopamine, a chemical messenger that enhances the working memory of the brain. Simply put, walking helps keep your memory sharp.

  • 15 minutes of brisk walking improves learning and memory in people in their early 20s.
  • In a 13-year study of seniors, it was revealed that walking a total of 72 blocks per week prevented the shrinking of the brain’s gray matter, decreasing the risk of cognitive impairment. 
  • A Stanford study discovered that walking increased creative thinking by 81% and convergent thinking by 23%.
  • After a 6-month study on elderlies with dementia revealed that regular walking had no effect on their Mini-Mental State Examination score compared to the non-walking group which showed lower scores after the same period.
  • Women who walked more than 3 miles a day were 53% less likely to have dementia.
  • Walking 10 blocks a day can decrease the risk of dementia by 25%.

 

Benefits of walking for bone and joint health

Walking puts force on the bone, especially in the lower extremities. When force is constantly applied, it forces the body to fortify the bones to prevent it from breaking. Similar to how jumping rope benefits your bone health through repeated, low-impact jumps. Thus walking, even in older adults, helps prevent bones from becoming brittle.

  • Middle-aged women who practiced weighted-vest walking showed a 19.1% decrease in bone resorption compared to those that do not walk.
  • Walking without a weighted vest decreased bone resorption by 21.8%.
  • Men over 50 who brisked walked 4 or more hours a week are 62% less likely to suffer from hip fractures.
  • 30 minutes of walking and 10 minutes of step climbing improved lumbar and femoral neck health by 6.8% in postmenopausal women.
  • Walking over 6,000 steps a day reduces functional limitations of the joints in the knees and ankles.

 

Benefits of walking for reducing cancer risk

Most types of cancers are associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Based on decades of studies, increased physical activity is recommended to lower the risk of getting cancer.

  • During an 11-year study, it was observed that people who participated in 75 minutes to 150 minutes of physical activity (walking, running, swimming) per week were at a lower risk of developing 13 of the 26 types of cancer they were tracking. 
  • Based on over 15 studies, it was determined that high levels of physical activities, like walking several hours a week at a brisk pace can reduce risk for cancer bladder by 15%.
  • Endometrial cancer risk is reduced up to 22% in women who regularly walked or cycled.
  • Based on a pooled study on men, any type of physical activity, including walking, can reduce the risk of developing rectal cancer up to 14.9%.
  • 30 minutes of brisk walking everyday after the onset of menopause has been linked to lower risks of developing breast cancer.

 

Benefits of walking for living longer

Can walking help you live longer? It may seem like something a doctor would say just to get you moving, but that advice is based on decades of studies.

  • Seniors who are slow walkers, with a systolic blood pressure of less than 140mmHg have a higher mortality risk than those with a higher SBP than walked faster.
  • Those who do not take daily walks have a 1.2 risk of dying compared to those that do.
  • All-cause mortality is 51% lower in people who take 8,000 steps a day compared to those who only do 4,000 or less.
  • Death from all causes is reduced by 65% by walking 12,000 steps a day.

 

Benefits of walking for weight loss

Any activity that burns calories helps people lose or control their weight. Although other activities like biking benefits your weightloss a bit more, walking is the cheapest, easiest, and most convenient form of exercise available today. You can do it anywhere and anytime. 

  • You can burn 141-563 calories an hour depending on how fast you are walking.
  • Calories burned walking for 30 minutes at a 2.5 mph is 3.52 calories.
  • Walking 10,000 steps burns 421.5 calories.
  • To burn 2,000 calories, you need to walk for 3.6 hours at a speed of 5 mph.
  • Walking in groups can lead to a reduction of 0.71 kg/m2 in body mass index (BMI). 
  • Those who walked in groups lost about 1.31% of their body fat.
  • People who participated in a 6-month guided walking study reduced their weight by 1.6-3.3 kg and lost 1.9-3.5cm in their waist circumference.

FAQs

What happens if you walk everyday?

Walking everyday can reduce the risk of various health conditions like heart disease, neurological impairment, diabetes, bone brittleness, and even some types of cancer. On top of that, walking can also help people lose weight at a gradual pace without over-exertion.

When is the best time to walk?

According to a recent study, walking or exercising in the afternoon is the most beneficial. Afternoon walks are associated with greater improvements in insulin sensitivity, feeling more energized the next day, and increased metabolic health.

Can walking tone leg muscles?

Yes, walking does help in shaping up your leg muscles. However, if you want to reap more muscle-toning benefits, you need to add weights, increase your pace, or walk in an inclined position to get better results.

Do we need to walk 10,000 steps a day?

Not necessarily. Though 10,000 steps or walking 5 miles a day have been associated with improved overall mental health, there are recent studies that show even half that count can decrease the risk of early death. The key takeaway here is to start walking and increase intensity, distance, or speed gradually to reap more benefits from walking.

Is walking better than running?

Yes and no. Walking can help you burn calories but running the same distance will burn more calories. However, if you have joint problems, running may not be your best option as it can exacerbate existing problems.

Are walking poles beneficial?

Yes, though it may look funny for some, adding walking poles to your daily walks amps up the benefits of this aerobic activity. Walking poles can help you burn more calories because it also activates the muscles of your arms and chest. Another benefit of using a walking stick is that when you push forward, it also engages your ab muscles which can lead to losing abdominal fats.

Is walking in winter good for you?

Yes, walking in cold weather has a bunch of benefits. According to the American Journal of Human Biology, walking in winter can lead to a 34% increase in calories burned. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that winter walks also strengthen your lungs and immunity and can result in fewer sick days.

However, you still should not over exert yourself during your winter walks. Spending too long out in the cold or in extremely low temperatures can damage the lining of your respiratory tract and lead to infections.

Can walking help you lose belly fat?

Yes, but don’t expect to get a six-pack just by walking. By doing interval walking training, which is done by mixing up your pace in a 45-minute walk, you’ll be able to burn more calories, thereby lose weight. As you lose weight, you’ll see your midsection minimize too.

If you want more ab workout, try using walking poles. The twisting motion that happens when you use the pole to push forward engages your ab muscles which helps you see results faster.

You can also try the farmer’s walk or walking while carrying a heavy load on both sides of the body. The addition of weights makes walking harder and engages more muscles, increasing calories burned per minute.

Is walking outside better than using a treadmill?

Walking delivers almost the same physical benefits regardless if you’re on a treadmill or taking a walk in the neighborhood or through the woods. However, walking outside has been shown to deliver greater advantages when mental and emotional health are considered. The fresh air, sunlight, and nature in general have a calming effect on a person.

Can walking help you sleep better?

Yes and no. This largely depends on how exercise affects your body. For some people, walking or exercising close to bedtime helps them sleep better. Meanwhile, some people are more awake after exercising. So you need to know your body’s reaction to exercise to know when’s the best time for you to take your daily walks.

On the other hand, if you walk in the mornings, especially outdoors, your exposure to natural light can help keep your internal clock in check.

There are also studies that showed that late-night exercise can delay the onset of melatonin secretion, the sleep hormone.

Conclusion

Walking is a great form of exercise to improve a person’s overall well-being. This aerobic activity can help improve the function of the heart, lower blood glucose levels, reduce stress levels, and aids in weight loss. However, walking alone is not enough to develop strength and muscle mass. Studies have shown that variations in walking, like increasing intensity or adding the use of a walking pole, have shown positive outcomes to people who have tried them.

About RunRepeat

RunRepeat houses thousands of reviews for various types of shoes. We have filters in place to make it easier for you to find the pair that suits your needs.

At RunRepeat, you can find walking shoes that are comfortable for all-day wear, fitness walking, going to work, and for seniors who may have some dexterity issues. Also, if you have foot or walking issues, you can find models that provide support and comfort for those with plantar fasciitis, overpronation, or flat feet.

Use of content

  • If this article piqued your interest and you would want to find out more, you can reach out to Nick Rizzo at nick@runrepeat.com to ask questions or setup an interview.
  • Feel free to use the data on this analysis for any web coverage of the topic or related articles. Our only request is to link back to this original source.

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Author
Nicholas Rizzo
Nicholas Rizzo

Nick combines 10+ years of experience in the health and fitness industry and a background in the sciences in his role as the Fitness Research Director. During his competitive powerlifting years his PRs have him sitting in the top 2% of bench presses (395 lbs), top 3% of squats (485 lbs) and top 6% of deadlifts (515 lbs) for his weight and age. His work has been featured on Bodybuilding.com, LiveStrong, Healthline, WebMD, WashingtonPost, and many more. Along the way, collaborating with industry leaders like Michael Yessis, Mark Rippetoe, Carlo Buzzichelli, Dave Tate, Ray Williams, and Joel Seedman.