Benefits of Walking

Is walking good exercise to reach your recommended exercise per week?

Reaching your recommended exercise per week through walking


Is walking good for you? It is if you are looking for benefits related to weight, health, and mental clarity. Walking is among the most natural of movements and you may not even think much about it, but it can still improve your physical and emotional health and well-being. It can even be a simple way to treat prediabetes and lower diabetes risk.

 

Walking and Insulin Resistance


Brisk walking is a type of aerobic exercise, which means it can help with glycemic control, or managing blood sugar levels. Aerobic exercise increases insulin sensitivity or reduces insulin resistance, which is exactly what you want when you are treating prediabetes. Brisk walking can help lower diabetes risk, with one study reporting a 46% lower risk in diabetes among people who walked 30 minutes per day. [1]

 

Calories Burned Walking


Have you thought about walking for weight loss or using walking to help you control your weight? You may be on the right track. While walking does not burn as many calories as a more intense activity such as, say, running, swimming laps, or mountain bicycling, it does burn a few calories. Together with a sound weight loss diet for prediabetes, this boost in metabolism can help you control your weight and lower diabetes risk by over 50%. [2]


As you can see from the following table, faster walking burns more calories per minute than slower walking. Also, walking uphill boosts the calorie burn compared to walking on level ground.

   
Approximate Calories Burned Per Half-Hour of Walking Based on Your Body Weight
150 lb. 180 lb. 210 lb.
Walking, 2.5 mph
119
143
167
Walking, 3.0 mph
135
162
378
Walking, 3.5 mph
156
163
220
Brisk walking, 4.0 mph
182
224
261
Walking, 3.5 mph, uphill, 5% grade
224
257
300

To put these calorie numbers into context, keep in mind that you can lose 1 lb. of body weight for each 3,500 extra calories that you burn. You can lose 1 lb. per week by expending an extra 500 calories per day. Looking at the above table, if you weigh 180 lb. and walk for 30 minutes a day at 3.5 mph at a 5% incline, you will burn 257 calories per day and could lose a half-pound per week.

What is a “brisk walk”?

The term can be hard to define, as some people walk much faster than other as their standard pace, while others would consider that a “brisk pace”. The standard way to define a brisk walk is 100 steps per minute. Once you set the pace, maintaining that walk speed will come more easily.

Brisk walking may sound like a walk in the park, but it can lead to serious health benefits if you have the time to walk.

 

Health Benefits of Walking


You can expect other effects when you are walking for health. Walking can lower blood pressure, especially in the hours after you finish. [3] People who are fitter tend to have lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, higher “good” HDL cholesterol, and lower triglycerides. [4] Walking may lower breast cancer risk, [5] as well as risk of cancer of the colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach, and it may reduce pain from arthritis [6], not to mention improve bone health. Even women who are currently pregnant can benefit from brisk walking, particularly those at risk of gestational diabetes.

 

Mental and Emotional Benefits of Walking


The benefits of walking go beyond the physical. Walking may have psychological benefits too, such as improving mood and preventing or reducing the effects of depression. People who walk regularly may have less anxiety and better cognition. Getting out the door to walk most days can improve your quality of life in many ways.

 

How Much Walking?


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking to get cardiovascular and other physical and mental health benefits. [7] That works out to 30 to 60 minutes of activity, 5 days a week. More benefits may come for people who exercise even more than that.

If you do not have time to do a full 30-minute walk at once, you can break it into 10-minute increments and try walking for 10 minutes, three times a day. The metabolism-boosting benefits and effects on blood sugar are similar to those of walking for the straight 30 minutes among people with insulin resistance. [8] Walking after eating, such as lunch or dinner, has also been linked to weight-loss benefits.

 

Benefits of Walking Compared to Other Exercises


Get your daily 30 minutes of exercise with your pet

Walking has a benefit compared to other choices for physical activity in that it is more flexible. Chances are that, unlike playing basketball or kayaking, you have been practicing walking for years - you do not need any special skills to walk for exercise. You can get started with no more equipment than a pair of comfortable and supportive shoes.

When you walk, you can match your program to your personality. You can hike or walk in a park, pound the pavement on city streets, hop on a treadmill, or walk in a mall. You can walk alone or with one or more people, or with a pet who would love to accompany you. 

 

Best Time to Walk


Some people wonder when is the best time of day to walk. The answer is that it is up to you. Choose a time of day when you enjoy walking and that works for your schedule. Some people may walk at a consistent time most days, such as during the lunch hour every work day or after dropping their children off at school on weekdays. Other people may enjoy walking at different times, such as early in the morning on some days, after dinner on other days, and mid-day on other days. Some people like to wakeup from post-lunch lethargy at work and take a 10 minute walk around the block.

There may be some morning walk benefits that can convince you to try to schedule your walks early in the day. When you walk first thing in the morning, you can be sure to get that day’s walk, which is important for those of us who are so busy that the end of the day comes before we finish our to-do list. Other possible benefits to walking in the morning include:

  • A sense of accomplishment that lasts through the day.

  • Time to think ahead and plan the upcoming day.

  • Feeling calmer all day.

  • Being more alert in the morning and sleeping better at night.

 

How to Build and Continue Your Walking Habit


You can take steps to start your walking habit and keep it going. After checking with your doctor to make sure your exercise plans are safe, your walking strategy is to make your walks as easy and enjoyable as possible.

  • Schedule your walks ahead of time so you can be sure to set aside enough time.

  • Walk with people or by yourself in silence or with the radio or music, depending on your mood. You may even find a friend who is willing to talk on the phone with you while you are walking!

  • Try new routes if you need a change.

  • Set out your walking shoes and clothes before you need them so that they are ready when you are.

  • Use an activity tracker for motivation.

Remember that you may not be able to hit the recommended 150 to 300 minutes per week when you first start. Just choose a starting point that is comfortable and safe for you. It could be as little as 5 minutes, three times a week, if you are not used to walking.

The benefits of walking can be enough to motivate you to get started, but extra help is always welcome. Lark can help you build that healthy walking habit by helping you set goals and track progress, and coaching you whenever you need it. Lark Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) can also help you lose weight and eat better to improve overall health.

 

Reference

  1.  Hamasaki H. Daily physical activity and type 2 diabetes: A review. World J Diabetes. 2016;7(12):243–251. doi:10.4239/wjd.v7.i12.243

  2.  Hamasaki H. Daily physical activity and type 2 diabetes: A review. World J Diabetes. 2016;7(12):243–251. doi:10.4239/wjd.v7.i12.243

  3.  Carpio-Rivera E, Moncada-Jiménez J, Salazar-Rojas W, Solera-Herrera A. Acute Effects of Exercise on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analytic Investigation. Arq Bras Cardiol. 2016;106(5):422–433. doi:10.5935/abc.20160064

  4.  Wang Y, Xu D. Effects of aerobic exercise on lipids and lipoproteins. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2017.16:132.

  5.  Bernstein L. Exercise and breast cancer prevention. Curr Oncol Rep. 2009;11(6):490-496.

  6.  Roddy E, Zhang W, Doherty M. Aerobic walking or strengthening exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee? A systematic review. Ann Rheum Dis. 2005;64(4):544–548. doi:10.1136/ard.2004.028746

  7.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018. 

  8.  Baynard T, Franklin RM, Goulopoulou S, Carhart R Jr, Kanaley JA. Effect of a single vs multiple bouts of exercise on glucose control in women with type 2 diabetes.Metabolism. 2005 Aug;54(8):989-94.

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health