Running and weight-training can harm your joints and connective tissue over time. Losing weight through improper dieting can negatively affect your heart and nervous system. Walking provides long-term health benefits without the risks associated with many of the quicker routes to weight loss.
Walking at a moderate to brisk pace for 30 to 60 minutes burns fat, builds muscle and speeds up your metabolism. The result over time is weight loss. And while weight loss may be the result you’re most interested in seeing, the physical benefits of walking go far beyond a smaller waist.
Walking is Good for Your Cardiovascular System and Lungs
Walking briskly elevates your heart rate. At first, you may become winded and feel the need to vary your speed, slowing down occasionally. That’s ok. But when you’ve made walking a part of your routine, you’ll notice an increase in your endurance. Your heart becomes stronger, your lungs gain capacity and you can walk at a faster pace for longer. Less obvious effects include lower blood pressure, lower levels of bad cholesterol and higher levels of good cholesterol. The combination of these factors means a lower risk of heart disease among walkers.
It’s important to note that to get the full heart-health benefits, one should walk at least 30 minutes per day at a brisk pace.
Walking is Good for Your Muscles and Bones
Walking is a natural way to put many of the muscles in your body to work in a symmetrical and low-impact way. When you walk you’re using your muscles to propel your body through space against the resistance provided by gravity. In fact, the more you weigh, the more of a workout your muscles are getting. The result is an increase in lean muscle and a symmetrically-toned physique.
Additionally, walking builds bone density and protects against osteoporosis. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Tufts University found that:
Women who walk more than 7.5 miles per week had higher mean bone density of the whole body and of the legs and trunk regions of the body than women who walk less than 1 mile per week.
One added benefit of weight loss together with stronger muscles is less strain on your joints which can reduce joint pain associated with arthritis as one ages.
Walking is Good for Your Nervous System
Walking, like any form of physical exertion releases endorphins. Think of endorphins as nature’s prozac. Endorphins create a sense of wellbeing, improve confidence and lower stress. Lower stress means lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with weight gain.
What’s more, increased endorphins together with the mild fatigue from physical exertion results in a better night’s sleep, another factor which makes losing weight easier. From WebMD:
On average, people who were overweight slept 16 minutes less per day than normal weight people.
Contrary to the scientific consensus of only a few years ago; studies now show conclusively that it’s possible for the adult brain to generate new neurons; and these factors — lower stress, more sleep and the moderate physical exertion of walking are the keys to that process.