For more than a year now, I’ve made it a habit to go for a walk each morning.
Do you know how often I wake up making excuses to avoid my daily walk?
Literally every morning, I try to convince myself to skip the day’s walk. Unless there’s a good reason to skip (heavy rain or storms, snow, or illness), I end up going anyway.
Why? I attribute it to two main things. The first is that everything seems a lot more doable after a cup of coffee (a.k.a. motivation juice). The second is that I have inadvertently trained my dog into guilt-tripping me. Early on, I began giving her a treat before leaving for my walk. Now I find her by the door each morning, waiting for me to leave for my walk so that she gets her treat.
Do you know how often I end up glad that I took that walk?
Starting the day with a walk has done wonders for me. Not only does it get me moving, but walking clears my mind, improves my mood, and focuses me. I’m not alone in discovering the virtues of a daily walk. In fact, there have been numerous scientific studies that demonstrate the particular benefits that walking has on individuals. But first, let’s review the scientific reasons you should be exercising.
The Importance of Exercise (According to Science)
Just in case you haven’t heard, exercise is good for you. A wealth of studies have demonstrated the importance of exercise for optimum health, both physical and mental. Here are just a few of the many reasons you should exercise.
- Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body. Exercise can strengthen your heart, fortify your bones, increase your metabolism and energy levels, and help lower blood pressure.
- Exercise plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight.
- Your immune system requires movement to function optimally. Exercise is a great way to get the lymphatic system circulating.
- Regular exercise may reduce your risk of certain diseases (including diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer).
- Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly have lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than individuals with more sedentary lifestyles.
Science is clear about the importance of exercise in maintaining health. However, it appears that walking has advantages all its own. After sorting through articles over the weekend, I have compiled a list of the 5 best reasons why you should consider adding a walk to your daily routine.
The Benefits of a Daily Walk
1) Because walking is easy to do, people tend to stick with it more than other forms of exercise.
We’ve all been there. We commit to taking steps toward healthy living so we buy an elliptical machine, sign up for fitness classes, or join a gym. But sooner or later, the novelty wears off because the effort to maintain the new habit is greater than our willpower.
Walking requires no special equipment. It’s as easy as putting on a pair of shoes and heading outdoors. You can walk anywhere: in your neighborhood, at a park, or around the field while your child practices his or her team sport. You can walk anytime: in the morning to start your day, in the evening to decompress, or during your lunch break at work.
Unlike other forms of exercise, walking is an ideal activity to do with others. Walking with a partner can help pass the time and will increase your accountability. It’s a great way to get your kids, your spouse, or your pet to exercise too!
2) Walking gives you all of the health benefits of running but with less strain on your body.
Personally, I have always enjoyed running. I particularly enjoyed the “runner’s high” that running gave me. Unfortunately, after breaking both of my knees in separate car accidents, I am under doctor’s orders not to run.
People tend to think that walking is a lesser form of exercise than running, but science doesn’t back that assumption up. In fact, studies have shown that walking can be as effective as running, and may even be better for you. Why?
Running is a high-impact exercise that taxes your body, especially the bones and joints of your legs, knees, and feet. Each time a runner’s foot hits the ground, their body is subjected to a stress equal to approximately three times their body weight. In a one-mile run, an individual’s legs will absorb the equivalent of 100 tons of impact force. Common running injuries include shin splints, stress fractures, “runner’s knee”, pulled hamstrings, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis.
On the other hand, walking is a low-impact form of exercise. Walkers have a much lower risk of exercise-related injuries than runners (1-5% for walkers as opposed to 20 to 70% for runners). While injuries can occur while walking, studies have shown that they are more likely to occur while running.
Although I’ve never heard the phrase “walker’s high”, I can attest to the fact that walking can still give you an endorphin rush if you walk at a brisk pace. Whenever I get upset, stressed out, or anxious, a vigorous walk will always reset my mood and leave me feeling better.
3) Walking is good for your brain.
Walking has been shown to benefit the brain in several ways.
One study demonstrated that adults who walked for 40 minutes three times a week for a year showed an increase in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with forming and storing memories.
Another study revealed that walking at moderate intensity for 30 minutes increased the levels of the protein Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) in recovering stroke patients. BDNF is known to be crucial for neuronal development, cognitive function, and overall brain health.
A third study demonstrated that following one year of walking, brain plasticity was improved and neural connections within the brain were increased. Additional research suggests that the foot’s impact during walking may send pressure waves through arteries that result in increased blood flow to the brain.
4) Walking spikes creativity.
I do my best thinking while I walk. If I ever have writer’s block, am puzzled about how to create a new lesson for my class, or need to solve a problem, I head out for a walk. I’m never disappointed.
Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, and Ernest Hemingway are authors who claimed to be inspired by their daily walks. Thoreau is quoted to have said, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”
Scientists are searching to find the link between walking and creativity. A recent study from Stanford University demonstrated that an individual’s creativity increased by an average of 60% while walking. Another study suggests that walking may free up the brain’s attention span, allowing more imaginative thought to take place.
5) Time spent in nature—whether walking, running, or just enjoying your surroundings— has scientifically-proven benefits.
It makes sense that getting outside is good for the mind, body, and spirit. Studies have shown that unplugging from electronics and immersing yourself in nature, so-called nature therapy, can have produce many positive effects.
One study demonstrated that adults who spend time in nature have lower levels of the stress-hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, and lower heart rates than individuals in urban environments. Other studies have shown that walking in nature can combat depression and negative self-talk. Spending time walking outdoors is also a great way to get a natural dose of vitamin D.
One particularly interesting avenue of research suggests that spending time in nature may even increase the level of natural killer (NK) cells in your body. These specialized immune cells are important for warding off cancer, and their levels may increase following exposure to phytoncides, substances emitted by plants.
I adore time in nature, and adding a daily walk has been a great way to add nature therapy into my day. If only for an hour, I am away from screens, noise, and the pressures of the day. On my walks I’ve seen deer, chipmunks, turtles, birds, rabbits, and even a piebald squirrel. Being in nature is a great reminder for me of how small I am and how vast and amazing the world is.
I hope I’ve convinced you of the merits of exercising in general and walking in particular. If exercise is not something you do on a regular basis, I challenge you to consider adding a daily walk to your routine. You can start slow and build up your speed and duration. I hope that you, like me, find that taking a daily walk becomes the highlight of your day.
Disclaimer: individuals should consult their physician before starting any exercise program The content on this site should never be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor.
Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity from the Mayo Clinic
19 Reasons to Exercise from Psychology Today
Walking: Your Steps to Health from Harvard Medical School
To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker by Psychology Today