Could any activity be more easy and natural than walking? We do it every day without even thinking about it. Even though it does take some serious thought and effort to turn walking into a real exercise (ahem…jogging or, gasp, running), it nevertheless remains one of the easiest and more flexible ways to say “hello” to health!
All walking is good for you, but for walking to be a means for getting some industrial-strength health benefits, the ideal is getting 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week or, better yet, walking for a minimum of 12 miles per week. (Yes, I said 12 miles per week. And don’t think I couldn’t hear you grumbling from here!)
But here’s the exciting news: you don’t have to walk those miles or do the 30 minutes per day of exercise all at once. Studies have shown that 10 minutes of brisk walking three times per day has the same effect as an unbroken 30-minute stretch of walking. And other than an excuse involving casts and crutches, can any of us say in good conscience there’s no way we could walk briskly for 10 minutes three times a day? These same studies revealed one particularly surprising thing: There are no significant differences in cardiovascular benefits between moderate-intensity exercise and high-intensity exercise. The amount of time spent exercising is more important than the intensity of the exercise. So for aerobic-phobic exercisers, this is great news. You don’t have to huff and puff your way to good health. Just walk and stroll!
The news gets even better. Clip on a pedometer, and you may discover you’re already walking more than you realize just by doing your regular routine throughout the day. If you increase your distance by a bit and pick up the pace, you may end up adding some significant cardiovascular benefits while dropping a few pounds. Try to rack up 10,000 steps per day by doing your chores, taking the stairs, parking a few extra yards from your destination and throwing in a bit of targeted activity, then show off your pedometer as documented proof that you’ve “walked” five miles! How’s that for accountability?!
So why walk? For one thing, our bodies were designed for mobility and for taking in adequate oxygen, and they need both for the many systems of the body to work properly. Walking satisfies that dual requirement while avoiding harsh jarring of the musculoskeletal system. It keeps things moving and, if you throw in the proper amount of water, it helps keep things lubricated as well.
You probably know this, but it bears repeating: walking helps with weight control. One group of researchers studied volunteers for 15 years and discovered that the more people walked, the less they gained over the years. And the opposite was true, too: the less folks walked, the more they gained.
Another study found that walking reduces food cravings, even when chocolate is the tempter. It was discovered that, for volunteers who had taken a brisk 15-minute walk, chocolate cravings were significantly lower for at least 10 minutes longer when compared against those who hadn’t walked. The boost of energy and mood elevation provided by the walk apparently diminished the need for something sweet and luscious to do the same. So when you feel a snack attack coming on, take a quick walk instead!
Not only does walking cut cravings for forbidden sweets, it helps diminish the blues, even in people suffering from serious depression. Subjects with major depressive disorders were asked to either walk briskly on a treadmill for 30 minutes or relax quietly for the same amount of time. While those simply relaxing had some improvement in mood, those who walked had measurably more feelings of well-being and vigor.
There are many more benefits of walking than we could ever cover here. You may discover that, when it comes to your personal prescription for health, the command to “walk, don’t run” is exactly what the doctor ordered!