On Your Health

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The Health Benefits of Walking

The new year always serves as a reminder to recalibrate goals for the upcoming calendar, whether that is focusing on healthy eating or incorporating more exercise into your routine. When most people hear the word exercise, it’s easy to associate it with running, biking, weight lifting or other strenuous activities as a means to stay healthy. 

But, walking has health benefits of its own, especially when performed each day. We will discuss how walking can improve various aspects of your mental and physical health and if you really need to take 10,000 steps per day to experience benefits.

Benefits of walking everyday

For people who don’t like running or biking, a brisk walk each day can benefit your entire body, from your mood and memory down to your bones and joints. In fact, walking five to six miles a week can keep your joints strong and lubricated to help reduce arthritis symptoms.

You may not typically associate walking with weight loss, but it can be an important part of your weight loss journey when combined with a diet plan. From a mental health standpoint, walking everyday can also help reduce stress and improve your sleep patterns.

Any type of exercise is good for your heart health, and regular walking is a great way to manage heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Studies have also shown walking every day can lower your risk of weight gain and breast cancer and help boost immune system function.

The human body has dozens and dozens of obesity-promoting genes associated with body mass index that can lead to weight gain. Researchers at Harvard University found the effects of these genes were cut in half in people who walked at a moderate pace for an hour each day.

Years ago, the American Cancer Society published a study that found women who walked at least seven hours per week had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who walked three hours or fewer per week.

Walking for 20 minutes a day, five days a week has also been linked to 43 percent fewer sick days compared to people who walked just once a week.

How many calories do you burn walking a mile?

How many calories you burn while walking depends on your pace, weight and distance. For example, a 125-pound person won’t burn as many calories as a 185-pound person. You will also burn more calories the faster you walk or the farther you walk.

Here are some examples, according to Harvard Health.

17-minute mile pace

  • 125-pound person: 107 calories
  • 155-pound person: 133 calories
  • 185-pound person: 159 calories

15-minute mile

  • 125-pound person: 135 calories
  • 155-pound person: 175 calories
  • 185-pound person: 189 calories

How many miles should you walk a day?

With the rise in popularity of pedometers, Apple Watches and FitBit’s, many Americans are focused on their step count more than ever before.

It used to be that 10,000 steps was the magic number to walk each day. That translates to 4 to 5 miles, depending on the person and the stride length. However, a study published in JAMA Network Open revealed just 7,000 steps a day had a 50% to 70% lower risk of premature death. The study was comprehensive, too, as it followed more than 2,000 people for an average of nearly 11 years.

Although this is only one study, some experts believe 10,000 steps was created solely as a marketing tool and a soft goal to set as opposed to a hard-and-fast rule.

Instead of focusing on step count, try to achieve 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, per recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

How to walk

Walking may seem like a simple task since we all do it each day, but there is a right way and a wrong way to walk.

Establish a good posture

To maximize your benefits, you’ll want to ensure you walk with a good posture and have an appropriate stride length – too short will result in choppy steps, while too long can be more taxing on your feet and lower body.

Hold your head up straight over your shoulders, being sure not to tilt it down – this means don’t stare down at your phone when walking! Relax your shoulders, neck and back and keep them in a natural position. 

With each step, swing your arms and slightly bend your elbows. You want your arms and hands relaxed, but not too relaxed to the point of dangling at your side. Engage your core as you walk. You can practice this by squeezing your abdominal muscles as if you’re about to receive a gut punch. In terms of foot strike, roll your foot from heel to toe in a smooth fashion.

If you plan on walking several miles a day, it’s beneficial to invest in quality shoes that can provide arch support and cushion for your feet. Comfortable, but slightly loose-fitting clothing, works well for walking.

Start with small goals

For walking beginners, start out slow with small goals and incrementally work your way up. Take a five-minute walk on your lunch break or when you get home from work. Even if it’s only a few blocks, everyone has to start somewhere! Sooner than later, two blocks will become two miles and your stamina and endurance will surprise you.

You’ll notice the health benefits as you begin to increase your distance and duration. Once you can walk several miles at a time, focus on increasing your pace to lower the time it takes to walk a mile. The faster you walk, the better workout your heart receives.

Change up your routine

Try to incorporate interval walking as you progress in your journey. As an example, walk your normal pace for five minutes followed by a faster pace for two to three minutes before returning to your base pace. The change in speed can burn more calories than your typical leisurely walk.

If you ever find your walking routine to be monotonous, change your environment up by walking at a park or a different neighborhood than your own. A walking route with rolling hills or an incline can provide you with a welcomed change of pace that will also increase your heart rate.

For more health topics and fitness tips, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.

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