When it comes to getting a good workout, walking isn’t always at the top of our list. Other activities such as HIIT workouts, running, and cycling that are higher intensity tend to get a lot more attention.
And while exercising in any form is beneficial, walking is easily one of the most underrated forms of exercise out there. It’s free, accessible, low-impact, and easy to fit into your daily routine.
Here, we’ll explore the many health benefits of walking, as well as tips to help boost your motivation.
8 health benefits of walking
From helping us maintain a healthy weight and boosting our immune system, to connecting with nature and reducing stress levels, there are many benefits of walking.
1. Walking can boost our mental health
Various research has revealed the positive effect that walking can have on mental health.
It’s been shown to boost self-esteem and positivity, and reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and low mood. For example, this study revealed that physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of depression, and staying active can also help those with depression to recover.
A lot of people find that when they’re feeling a bit down or stressed, the best medicine is often to take ourselves outside for a walk and get some fresh air. This is because walking encourages the brain to release endorphins (neurochemicals that reduce the levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and make us feel good).
Walking outside is particularly effective because it can help us feel connected to nature, maintainperspective, and practise mindfulness. Mindfulness has been shown to improve mental health by encouraging us to appreciate our surroundings and focus on the present moment.
2. Walking can aid healthy weight loss
Like all physical activity, walking raises your heart rate and causes you to burn calories – making it a useful aid for healthy weight loss.
For example, in this study, participants lost an average of 7.7kg (or 10% of their initial body weight) after doing a brisk daily walk for six months. Another study found that obese women who walked for 50-70 minutes three days a week lost 2.7kg over a period of 12 weeks, compared with those who didn’t walk.
However, unlike high-intensity forms of exercise such as running, walking can be as intense as you want it to be. This makes it a great option for anyone wanting to increase their activity levels and lose weight – with arguably less effort!
For example, in this study, people burned an average of 89 calories per mile, which was only around 20% less than those who ran the same distance.
Walking is also good for those with busy schedules as it doesn’t require commitment to exercise classes – you can walk anywhere, anytime, and easily combine it with other tasks to kill two birds with one stone.
However, it’s important to note that while walking can help you to lose weight, it’s much more effective when combined with eating a healthy, balanced diet.
For example, in this 12 week study a group of obese people restricted their daily calorie intake by around 500-800 calories per day. One group walked for three hours each week and the other didn’t walk at all. While both groups lost a significant amount of weight, those who walked alongside their diet lost, on average, an additional 1.8kg more than those who didn’t walk.
3. Walking can boost energy levels
According to experts, walking makes us feel more energised because it boosts the production of energy hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, and increases blood flow throughout the body. This allows more blood containing oxygen and nutrients to reach larger muscles in the legs as well as the brain.
For example, this study found that sedentary adults reported feeling less tired and more energised after just 20 minutes of low to moderate exercise (including walking) for three days a week over a six-week period.
In addition, this study found that 10 minutes of walking up and down the stairs left sleep-deprived women feeling more energised than when they had 50mg of caffeine (around half a cup of coffee).
These benefits are especially true when we walk outside. This review found that adults who walked for 20 minutes outside experienced more energy and vitality than those who walked for 20 minutes inside.
4. Walking can boost your immune system
Various research has found that walking can boost the immune system and help protect you during cold and flu season, or from other immune-related illnesses.
This is because exercise increases the number of white blood cells circulating in your blood, which are responsible for fighting off infection and other diseases. For instance, in this study of fifteen healthy female adults, white blood cell count increased significantly after a 30-minute walk.
Consistent walking has also been linked with a lower number of sick days taken. In this study, which tracked 1,000 adults during flu season, those who walked between 30 and 45 minutes a day at a moderate pace took 43% less sick days and suffered from fewer respiratory tract infections than those who were sedentary.
It also found that when they did get unwell, their symptoms were less severe.
5. Walking can help to ease pain and stiffness
Science has revealed that walking can be used as a tool to help relieve pain and stiffness in the body.
This is because it warms up muscles (making it easier to move around) and increases levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which help the nervous system to function effectively – including its regulation of pain.
Walking can benefit conditions such as arthritis because it helps to protect joints – including our knees and hips – by strengthening the muscles that support them. For example, research suggests that walking can help to reduce arthritis pain and that walking five to six miles a week could even help to prevent arthritis.
Walking is also recommended for patients with muscolusketeal conditions (pain that affects the bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, and ligaments), such as lower back pain. For example, this study found that patients who had been hospitalised with musculoskeletal pain in their limbs or spine reported less pain the more they walked.
6. Can improve mental clarity and boost creativity
Many of us find that going for a walk is a great way to clear our mind and make space for creative thinking. And we’re not imagining it, as science has revealed that walking can improve creative output by up to 60%.
There are a few reasons behind this. For example, visiting distraction-free spaces allows us to think more clearly and by connecting with our surroundings we often feel inspired.
Research also shows that walking can increase the amount of a type of protein found in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may be responsible for how well we learn, think, and memorise things.
For example, this study, which compared people trying to think of new ideas while they were walking or sitting down, found that those who were walking did better – particularly while walking outdoors.
7. Walking can help ward off disease and extend life expectancy
Science has long revealed that increasing your activity levels by walking is an important step to take towards a healthier life.
Walking improves the performance of your heart, lungs, and circulation, and can extend life expectancy by lowering your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
For example, recent research has suggested that regular walking could reduce the risk of 13 types of cancers. Plus, this study found that walking for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by around 19%.
In conjunction with these findings, another study, which followed 27,738 participants aged between 40 and 79, found that those who walked for more than one hour a day had a longer life expectancy than those who walked for less than an hour a day.
The pace of your walking also has an impact. Of the 50,000 adults in this study, those who walked at either a fast or average pace between five and 10 hours each week were 24% less likely to die from heart disease, compared with slow walkers. So, for best results, you might want to try brisk walking or power walking.
8. Walking may improve sleep quality
If you struggle with insomnia or maintaining a healthy sleep pattern, then walking more could help to revive your routine.
Walking has stress-reducing effects that make it easier to fall asleep – and walking outside exposes you to natural light, which is essential for maintaining a well-functioning circadian rhythm.
For example, in this study, on days when people walked more, they experienced improved sleep quality and duration.
How much should I be walking to reap the benefits?
According to the NHS, adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Walking counts towards this goal and is a great way to build stamina and improve your overall health, so if walking is your main form of exercise, a good goal to aim for is 30 minutes of walking per day.
In order to reap the full benefits, try walking at a brisk pace, which is about 3mph. This should mean that your heart is having to work a bit harder and your breathing is a little heavier.
For help tracking your walking pace, you might like to download the NHS free Active 10 app on your smartphone. Active 10 will tell you whether you’re walking fast enough and suggest ways you could try fitting some more brisk walking into your day.
How to make walking a habit and stay motivated
If you’re currently not very active, it’s a good idea to increase your walking distance and speed gradually. Remember, everybody starts somewhere.
The easiest way to start walking more is to make it a habit. To do so, you could think of ways of adding walking into your daily routine. That’s the beauty of walking – it can be done anywhere, at any time.
For example, why not consider walking to the shops instead of driving? Using the stairs instead of taking lifts or escalators? Or arranging a regular walk with a friend? You’ll find plenty more ideas in our article; 17 creative ways to increase your daily step count.
You might also like to combine walking with other activities that you enjoy to help you stay motivated – for example, listening to music or an audiobook, bird watching, or photography. You never know, taking up walking could help you to discover a new hobby too. Our article, 10 rewarding activities to do while walking, is full of inspiring ideas.
Joining a walking group is another great way to get started with walking and connect with like-minded people. Ramblers organise group walks for health, leisure, and as a means of getting around for people of all ages, backgrounds, and fitness levels. You’ll find details of ogranised walks in different towns, cities, and countryside areas on the Ramblers website.
If you want to take your walking to the next level or try something new, then some of our articles below might spark your interest…
When it comes to looking after our health, walking is one of the most underrated tools out there. It’s free, accessible, and easy to fit into your daily routine, so why not start reaping the benefits of walking today?