In a society whose health and fitness industry touts intense, “go hard or go home” style workouts as the be-all end-all of attaining the perfect body you want, walking for health and fitness kind of feels like a joke. You’re telling me slow, methodical movement is going to get me healthy and fit? It’s hard to believe when you can easily consult Google and find hundreds of strength, conditioning, and cardio workouts that claim to help you shed the extra fat and finally become the healthier person you’ve been aspiring to be. But if you start with walking, which is extremely approachable and sustainable, you’re much more likely to stick with the lifestyle changes you’ve set out to make – like diet and stress management.
The reality is that pushing yourself into an intense and grueling workout routine as you try to navigate a new way of eating and living isn’t sustainable unless you have no job, no family or friends, and all the time in the world. I made the same mistakes throughout my early twenties, signing up for god-awful “butt-busting” cardio and 6am spin classes that I knew I didn’t like or want to do, but “that’s just what you do” if you want to be healthy and get in shape. I would never stick with it, and soon my newfound healthy eating would also go out the window, and I’d be back at square one.
Now, I rock climb, lift weights, do some (small amounts) of cardio, and most importantly, I walk. I started off just ensuring that I’d walk as much as I could every day. Only once I was comfortable with the new healthy eating plan I had implemented, did I start increasing the amount I’d walk and then finally started looking into other forms of exercise or movement that appealed to me.
There are numerous reasons that walking is a great start to becoming healthier and more fit. It turns out that getting a good amount of walking in every day provides you with a host of health benefits, improves cardiovascular performance, and is a great way to be active that is sustainable for most people. This is so crucial when you’re trying to change your diet at the same time!
Your body expects to walk
It kind of goes without saying, but until relatively recently, humans could only get around by walking. Only with the advent of our fancy-pants automobiles and desk jobs has that changed. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I was pretty much living the epitome of a sedentary lifestyle. When I did engage in periods of exercise, I found that my joints hurt, my back muscles ached, and I was generally miserable when I tried to be active. That changed for the first time in college, where I found myself walking pretty much all day long to get to classes, go to the dining hall, or visit friends. Not only did I notice some (really welcome) fat loss just from the walking alone, but my aches and pains nearly vanished. I felt so energized, and my mood improved, both of which were things I struggled with through much of my middle and high school careers. This was the first time that it dawned on me that walking was something that humans are meant to do – it’s how we are designed.
It gets you out into nature – which improves health markers
Dedicated walks outside tend to make most of us feel better. There are studies that have been recently published that have measured these effects in real-life people. Dedicated time spent in “green spaces” like forests or parks showed improvement for a whole host of health markers. Immune systems improved, stress responses lowered, and one study showed a lowering of pulse and blood pressure in subjects that spent time outside.1 2 And what’s even crazier, a single walk/hike showed these beneficial effects in subjects for 30 days or more. That means if you can make it out to a park or forest or any green space in your area just once a month, you could get these health benefits, along with a sweet day trip to a place you possibly haven’t been to before.
It can help you be more creative
I was on one of my short daily walks around the office building that I work in when I decided that I wanted to start writing a blog. I come up with ideas for future posts or new recipes to try for dinner fairly regularly while I spend time walking, and that’s no coincidence. Studies illustrate a strong connection between the act of walking to the number of creative thoughts that an individual comes up with.3 Being at a point in our history where we are consuming more than ever before, it benefits us all to engage in activities that help us feel more creative.
It’s a sustainable healthy activity that keeps you on track
This is one of the more powerful effects that walking can have. Because it’s so easy to work into your day-to-day routine at some scale, it’s a very sustainable activity. People rarely get burnt out on too much walking. It’s also easy to scale to your own lifestyle. If you don’t have the ability to carve out large amounts of time to go and walk a few miles, you can take periodic breaks and walk around your office or work space. The flexibility that this provides frees up a lot of brain space that can be used on other parts of your life. This is key when starting a new diet or lifestyle transition and things like choosing which foods to eat for breakfast can feel overwhelming.
These are just a few of the more powerful reasons why I prioritize walking every day. If you don’t dedicate time for this now, I really encourage you to start!