You Can Improve Your Physical and Mental Health by Walking

You Can Improve Your Physical and Mental Health by Walking

Posted by JB on Aug 16th 2017

Health Benefits of Taking Walks

If you ever watch television, you probably see commercials for “can’t miss,” exercise equipment that promises to turn you from a couch potato into a fitness model, in just minutes a day. And for most people, the exercise equipment will help them significantly if they purchase it and actually use it regularly.

They may not become fitness models overnight, but they will likely become stronger, faster, healthier, happier, and may even lose weight. And this is true even for equipment that really isn’t that effective.

The problem for most people is not that they don’t have the right equipment; it is that they are not exercising on a consistent basis. The solution for most people is not to buy the optimal fitness equipment, it is to start doing something physical—almost anything—consistently. Once the positive habit of exercise begins, it is much easier to keep it going.

Fortunately, there is one highly effective fitness activity that doesn’t require fancy equipment or a gym or even a partner—walking. In this article, we will talk about why walking is so great.

You might also enjoy our articles about hiking for beginners and the creative, healing, and physical benefits of hiking.

The Benefits of Taking a Walk

Whether you are a professional couch potato or an advanced CrossFitter, incorporating walking into your daily lifestyle will improve your life.

For the people that haven’t developed their fitness levels as much as they’d like, walking is a great way to ease into healthy physical activity. It is low-impact and easy to control the pace. Yet it still offers the benefits of burning calories, toning muscles, and improving cardiovascular health. As your physical state improves, you can easily increase your pace or distance, or start to look for bigger hills.

For those of you in better shape, walking still offers immense benefits, particularly when it replaces more sedentary activities.

Click Above for Walking, by Henry David Thoreau

Fitness Benefits of Walking

Walking is real, actual exercise: It burns calories at a decent pace; it raises your heart rate and gets your blood pumping through your body; it strengthens your legs and your core (especially if you walk with good posture); and helps to develop your lungs.

Is it as challenging as a CrossFit workout? No. Does it strengthen your legs as much as squats or other resistance training? No. But it does offer many physical benefits and walking is either a great gateway into more advanced exercise or a supplemental to other activity.

Mental Benefits of Walking

The mental and stress-reducing benefits of walking may be as great as the physical benefits. There is really nothing like a walk on a beautiful day in a scenic area to help you place your stresses and worries in context to the greater joy of life and the world. Stuck indoors, phone calls and emails, problem after problem, stressor after stressor, it is easy to forget, in fact, that there is a wide world out there and it is beautiful.

For more, read our article about the mental and physical benefits of spending time outdoors.

You can attach yourself to screens all day with work, social networks, news-gobbling, and useful app after app. But if you can break free for a little while, step outside, and simply walk, you will offer yourself the mental break that you probably need.

Instead of focusing on a small screen, you can focus on a stream, or a tree, or perhaps a house that you like. You can look more broadly not only at whatever you are passing—as real life is bigger than screens—but you will probably see the world in a bigger way as well, which will reduce the size of your worries, problems, and other stressors.

In doing so, it may free up your mind, allow it to think more laterally, and you may—without even realizing it—come up with the solution to that problem that was keeping you up late or other insights that might take you into a better direction in life.

At the same time, you will experience the mental benefits of exercise, including the elevated heart rate and increased breathing rate.

And if you are outside in the right place and right time of year, you might even get some vitamin D.

But don't just take my word for it.

Even the great stoic philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, in his classic, "On the Shortness of Life," knew the value of a good walk: "We must indulge the mind and from time allow it the leisure which is its food and strength. We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air." (p. 105).

If you think Seneca speaks to you, check out his letters. Highly recommended

How to Incorporate Walks into Your Life

But maybe like 96.9% of the people in the world, you already feel like you are too busy to add something new to your day, particularly something time-consuming like a walk? Maybe you are already all-booked up?

Well, chances are, you aren’t really as busy as you think. You probably spend a lot of time online essentially wasting time or procrastinating from doing actual work. If you find yourself doing that, take a short walk instead. It will create a better mental break than watching a cat video and it even counts as exercise.

You can also add walking into existing activities. Many of us spend a lot of time on the phone; or at least have some calls we need to make. Unless you have an old school rotary phone that is plugged into your wall, you probably can take your phone with you. Take a walk and make your calls on the way. It is better than just sitting there.

Or perhaps you don’t get to spend as much time with your family or friends as you’d like? Instead of sitting and watching television together—or texting to each other from across the room—take an evening or morning walk together and talk. The conversations will probably even be more pleasant because the act of walking is intrinsically relaxing.

You could even have work meetings on walks. When someone pops into your office to talk about the latest TPS reports, suggest that instead of talking in the office for the next twenty, thirty, or forty minutes, you both step outside the office building and walk and talk.

Whatever you do, find a way to walk more.

Find and Use a Fitness Tracker

Do you want to know how to do more of something? Measure it. There is a great quote sometimes attributed to Peter Drucker (but that is an area of controversy) that captures this point: “What gets measured gets managed.” That quote is in the context of business, but it is true in life as well.

If you keep track of how many steps you take, or hills you climb, you will want to take more. Try it, you will see. That parking spot that is a little further away will improve your numbers; so will taking the stairs instead of the elevator. And an actual walk—that is gold—it will give you great numbers for the day.

Many years ago, I started with a Fitbit—one of their early versions. It measured steps, calories (the best it could), and flights of stairs climbed. It definitely affected my daily activity. It made conscious what I didn’t think about before and I found myself looking for additional opportunities to walk.

You can read our review of the Fitbit One here.

You can read our review of the more advanced Fitbit Blaze here.

(As a side note, the software also allowed me to keep track of calories consumed. I started to follow both calories in and calories out—and was probably not super accurate with either one—and effortlessly lost about ten pounds in six weeks. I am not suggesting that those results will occur with everyone or anyone, but it shows the power of keeping track. The most likely reason I lost the weight is that on the margin I was paying more attention to both my food intake and my physical activity. Slightly more activity combined with slightly less intake was enough for me to lose the weight).

I like the Fitbit One and the Fitbit Blaze because they keep track of vertical distance (hills and stairs) as well as steps, but you should check out the Fitness and Activity Trackers on Amazon to pick the one that will work best for you.

Whatever you do, try to walk more.

Below are some activity trackers you might consider trying (click to purchase on Amazon):

And, of course, don't forget about the newest competitor in this field, the Apple Watch.

photo credit: Discussion With the Dog via photopin (license)