Gain Huge Health Benefits With a Daily Walk

One of the dangers of being stuck at home self-isolating is finding ourselves sitting around each day while we watch TV, scroll through social media or read a book.  The consequence of being too sedentary is weight gain.

You don’t want to have to break out your fat pants.

With gyms now shut down, one of the best forms of exercise to lose weight and stay healthy is by taking a walk – practicing safe distancing all the way.

The benefits of a daily walk

Walking is as easy as lacing up your running shoes and hitting the sidewalk – or better yet a nature trail.  Doing so will boost your overall health in many important ways and benefits people of all ages and fitness levels.  It also has one of the lowest injury rates of any form of exercise.

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The benefits are many:

  1. Lose weight and tone up your legs, butt, and stomach.  Walking revs up your metabolism and can help you burn calories and lose belly fat.  Your actual calorie burn depends on your walking speed, distance covered, terrain (hills or stairs) and your weight.  For an estimate of calories burned you can refer to this chart.  
  2. Strengthen your heart and reduce risk of chronic disease.  Walking at least 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, lower blood sugar and reduce the risk of diabetes and stroke.
  3. Better quality sleep.  Worries and stress can make it difficult to fall asleep.  Walking regularly is an effective way to calm down and helps you fall asleep more quickly and sleep longer.
  4. It makes you smarter.  Walking increases blood flow to the brain which improves your memory and helps you focus.  It reduces the risk of developing long term mental disease such as dementia. 
  5. Boosts bone strength and eases joint pain.  Weight bearing exercises like walking make your bones stronger and lessens osteoporosis.  It reduces arthritis pain by helping to lubricate joints and may even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place.  It can even delay the onset of varicose veins.
  6. Boosts your immunity.  Walking may reduce your risk of developing a cold or the flu and if you do get sick, your symptoms are lessened compared to sedentary people.
  7. Improves your mood.  Walking can help your mental health and reduce anxiety and depression, especially if you go for a stroll through green, natural areas, or soak up a bit of sun.  It can make you feel happier.
  8. Drug-free pain killer.  According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians live with chronic pain.  If you are one of them, probably the last thing you want to do is get up and go for a walk, but one study has found that regular walking can diminish chronic lower back pain and help you deal with pain better.
  9. It can even help you live longer.

There doesn’t seem to be a single health condition that walking can’t help in some way. 

The minimum prescription for good health is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking, five days per week. To get the maximum benefits walk at a brisk pace (at least 4 miles an hour) and log in some mileage.  Include one hour-long walk at least once or twice a week.

How to get into a walking habit

Walking is free to do and easy to fit into your daily routine.  All you need are good walking shoes, comfortable clothes, a water bottle, and maybe an energy bar for long walks.

To get started choose a walking route near your home. Or look for a scenic place such as a park, nature trail or the beach.

  • Set a daily target.  Make the goal difficult for you but still achievable.  5,000 or 10,000 steps a day is a decent goal.  And you don’t have to do them all at once.  You can do two or three shorter walks.  You can increase your incidental walking by walking to the store instead of driving, or parking a little further away.
  • Buy a pedometer or fitness tracker to count your steps and log your progress and help keep you motivated.
  • Challenge yourself.  Make yourself walk each and every day for 30 days.  No excuses.  The positive effect will help make this a habit.
  • Buy a good pair of walking shoes.  Make sure they are comfortable and well-cushioned and your legs and feet will thank you.  Get the right type of shoes for the terrain you’ll be walking on (pavement or trails).
  • Reward yourself.  Do something to reward your efforts –  maybe a new pair of pants or shorts for your more slender self.  Just don’t walk over to McDonalds – a Big Mac would be counterproductive.

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If you’re new to walking break up your routine and start slowly.  Gradually increase your duration and your pace, working up to 10 – 15,000 steps a day.  After walking stretch your leg and calf muscles.

Make your daily walk more fun

The more you like your walks, the more likely you’ll stick with your routine and stay healthy.  You’ll be making a positive lifestyle change.

Make your walks more enjoyable with these ideas:

  1. Start (or join) a walking club.  If you’re a social person you can meet up with friends and neighbours who may be looking for someone to chat with, even if it’s just one day a week.  Be sure to stay a safe distance from each other right now.
  2. Listen to music.  Listening to music makes your walk more enjoyable.  For a change of pace why not try swapping out your music for a podcast through Google Play Music or the iPhone podcasts app.  There are many types and all sorts of topics and you can use your walk to learn something new.
  3. Add intervals.  You start out slow, pick up to a moderate pace and then speed up to your fastest walking speed before slowing down again.  You can change you speed in a number of different ways – by time, landmarks, or song if you’re listening to music. Interval walking really cranks up the calories you burn long after your walk is over.
  4. Add other exercises.  Do body weight exercises such as squats or walking lunges, or use curbs, benches and trees to do calf raises, and push-ups and you’ll get a good workout.
  5. Do a walking meditation.  Find a comfortable breathing pattern and pay attention to your steps and notice the feeling as your foot lands.
  6. Explore different paths.  Don’t do the same walk every day.  Walk in different neighbourhoods.  Look at Google maps to find local parks and walking trails.  If you feel like it, carry a garbage bag, wear gloves and pick up litter.
  7. Walking is even more fun when there’s a cute dog involved. 

The bottom line

Walking is something most people can do, regardless of their age or fitness level.

My 90 year old mother walks around her retirement complex path for an hour a day (and then phones to tell  me about it🤔).

Daily walking has the highest success ratio of any new exercise program and  provides huge health benefits for both short and long term. 

Once you form the habit, it’s easy to turn it into a lifestyle change.

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6 Responses

  1. Eva says:

    We are big walkers. But are you sure 4 mph is the speed to aim for? We are fairly brisk walkers, and don’t reach that speed – it would be difficult for me to do that – would be almost a run.

    • Marie Engen says:

      Hi Eva. In the winter in Calgary I walked on our treadmill at 4 or 5 mph and it was pretty brisk. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to carry on a conversation at that pace. If I went for a longer period of time I did 3 – 3.5 mph. My program was shorter/faster or longer/slower. Some even recommend 6 mph as a target but that would be running for me. The main thing is to get your heart rate up but you don’t want to be uncomfortable or gasping for breath.

  2. Eva says:

    Actually, do you have a recommendation for heart rate instead – based on % of maximum, so it can be age adjusted?

    Thanks!

    • Marie Engen says:

      That’s a good question. It’s a good idea to monitor your heart rate so you don’t exert yourself too much, but you don’t want to be just strolling along either. A healthy heart zone for beginner walkers or warming up is 50-60% of your maximum heart rate and work up to 60 – 70% but not more than 80% if you are doing intervals (hills, steps, running). To get an estimate of your maximum heart rate subtract your age from 220. Here’s a calculator you can use https://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/heartrate

      • Eva says:

        Hello again Marie – thank you for both your replies. Turns out 70% of my max heartrate for my age (69) is 105 beats per minute, recommended range 83 to 128. That is encouraging since that’s the range I walked at this morning between flat and hills on the road, and flat and hills in the woods walking with challenging terrain underfoot.

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