Walking: Start Doing It For The Health Benefits
Al Roker, the popular weather forecaster on NBC’s Today Show, reached a milestone in his walking routine. Roker, who has chronicled his weight loss journey for the past two decades on the morning show, recently walked more than 10,000 steps a day for 210 days straight.
With his walking routine, a low-carb diet, and power walking during the Brooklyn Half Marathon in May, Roker said he had lost 45 pounds over the last two months. What’s his secret for successful walking? Listen to your body and do what you can; this will prevent you from getting burned out or feeling overwhelmed by a fitness routine.
“A little bit of something is better than nothing,” Roker, 67, says.
Walking is a good, low-impact exercise that can be done at any time and anywhere. What’s more, you can fit walking into your daily schedule, and the exercise only requires comfortable clothing, socks, and walking shoes.
One question asked about walking is whether it is enough to be considered physical activity when compared to more strenuous exercises like tennis, jogging, or swimming.
Walking is considered enough to stay healthy, according to Dr. Tracy Zaslow, primary care sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
“Walking is a great activity, and it’s accessible to such a wide variety of the population,” Zaslow said in an interview with Verywell.“You don’t need any special equipment, facilities, skills, or training. Plus, you can make adjustments to make it more advanced or intense over time.”
Walking has numerous benefits. For instance, a special report published by Harvard Health in 2017 says that walking an estimated 21 minutes a day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 percent.
Other studies show that walking can help:
- Control diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness
- Tone legs, glutes, abdomen, and back
- Build and maintain strong bones
- Improve balance
- Increase muscle strength and endurance
- Improve immunity, digestion and relieve constipation
- Reduce depression and anxiety
Studies have also shown that walking may help to prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia, according to Dr. Dave Rabin, a neuroscientist and board-certified psychiatrist at Apollo Neuroscience in Sausalito, California. This is primarily because walking has a domino effect. In an interview with Well+Good, Dr. Rabin says walking increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that boost feelings of well-being and mood.
Dr. Rabin noted a June 2021 study showing how exercise can renovate the white matter in the brain. White matter is a network of nerve fibers that coordinates communication in different areas of the brain. White matter deteriorates in the aging process and can cause cognitive impairment, and is an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease. The study, published in the journal Neurolmage, found that white matter in the brains of trial participants increased after six months of aerobic exercise and dancing.
Since exercise can renovate the white matter in our brains and boosts memory and concentration, Dr. Rabin says walking, then, can be viewed as “an investment into our future health.”
Practice Walking Meditations
Walking provides a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness—focusing on being in the moment—and clearing the mind. Studies have found that meditation helps reduce stress and improve concentration. Meditating while sitting is a common practice, but you can also practice different meditations while walking, such as:
- Gratitude meditation Focus on being thankful as you’re walking and think about all the things that you are appreciative of in your life.
- Smelling meditation Focus on smelling the flowers, freshly cut grass, bodies of water, and other elements of nature.
- Breathing meditation Breathe in through the nose and focus on a positive word (“good,” “relaxed,” happy”) that represents how you feel at the moment.
Besides meditation, you can also listen to music or a podcast while you walk or find a friend to walk with you. This creates accountability for both you and your partner.
Walking for Time vs Walking for Steps
Another question asked about walking is whether health benefits from walking are based on walking a certain number of steps or walking for certain lengths of time.
While many people aim for 10,000 steps a day, the average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day, or roughly 1.5 to 2 miles, according to the Mayo Clinic. But even 4,000 steps can yield benefits. For instance, a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that older adults who walked more than 4,000 steps a day had healthier brain tissue in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays an important role in regulating memory and learning, than older adults who walked fewer than 4,000 steps per day.
The Mayo Clinic advises those wanting to reach 10,000 steps a day to work up to it by adding 1,000 extra steps a day every two weeks. However, 10,000 steps a day may not be feasible for older adults with chronic health conditions, but a lower goal number may be better for them.
Dr. Rabin believes walking for a time, even if it is only 10 minutes, is a better way to go.
“The more you walk, the more likely you are to feel and see improvements, and it’ll start to feel easier,” he said.
Instead of thinking that you need to block out 30 to 60 minutes each day to exercise, Hope Zvara recommends adding walking to an activity that you are already doing or walking briskly for 15 minutes, even if you break that up and walk for only 5 minutes at a time. Most people who walk at a brisk pace for 15 minutes can walk about one mile and still see benefits, Zvara, the CEO of Mother Trucker Yoga, a company devoted to improving truck drivers’ fitness and wellness standards, said. For instance, a person who weighs 175 pounds would burn about 78 calories.
If you miss a day or two of walking, don’t beat yourself up. And, if you get frustrated and feel like giving up, be patient and stick with it, advises Dr. Benjamin Bengs, an orthopedic surgeon and Director of Special Surgery at the Center for Hip and Knee Replacement at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
“If you’re just starting to walk, Dr. Bengs recommends starting small and aiming for “realistic and achievable goals.”