The Health Benefits of Walking
MPP Merrilee Fullerton: “A good walk can improve your day”
The benefits of physical activity are significant both for our physical and mental health. People of all ages should establish a routine of daily activity to keep our bodies moving.
Walking is a perfect exercise. It is good for your cardiovascular health. It can help with maintaining weight and alleviating stress. It can improve the quality of your sleep. A good walk can improve your day.
Please find within this document a collection of helpful articles that highlight the health benefits of walking. It is my hope that the facts within will prompt more people to begin a daily exercise regime of walking.
Here are some recent news and health articles on the benefits of walking (a select few are reprinted below).
Want to improve health and well-being? Start walking
The benefits of walking and how to get the most out of it
The multiple benefits of walking
CBC: Staying safe and happy when walking and running outdoors this winter
Swedish study: Regular outdoor exercise may reduce anxiety by around 60%
Canadian study on living in a walkable neighbourhood
Dr. Michael Evans, professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Family Medicine, tells us that walking 30 minutes a day can result in wonderful health benefits. You can view this entertaining, short video by Dr. Evans to appreciate the great value of starting a daily walking routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUaInS6HIGo.
If you or any of your members would like an electronic file of the attached information package, please connect with my MPP Community Office and I would be pleased to forward the file. Phone 613-599-3000 or email email@example.com.
Dr. Merrilee Fullerton
Opinion: Want to improve health and well-being? Start walking
Opinion: It is estimated that about eight per cent of heart disease, depression and dementia could be prevented if people were more active. There’s plenty that every level of government can do to encourage more walking, including improving transit and sidewalks
by Dr. Paula Rochon is the founding director of the Women’s Age Lab at Women’s College Hospital and the RTOERO Chair in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Toronto.
Nov 9 2022
I just walked 120 kilometres over five days on the South Downs Way along the southeast coast of the United Kingdom. It was a beautiful walk through the pastoral English countryside, culminating in the dramatic chalk cliffs near the coastal town of Eastbourne. While not a technically difficult walk, there were certainly enough hills to climb, high winds and rainy days, to make us ready for our evening pub dinners.
Walking is the most popular aerobic physical activity , and one associated with improved mental and physical health. Yet, despite its benefits, as people age, levels of physical activity tend to decrease. Women of all ages are less active than men.
Globally, about 32 per cent of women are inactive compared to about 23 per cent of men .
Four of us walked together, and as is our habit, we tracked our progress by map and phone. On the longest day, the days with the most ups and downs, we completed over 34,000 steps and 2,000 feet of climbing.
As a geriatrician, and researcher very interested in promoting equity for women and health and well-being with age, I took note of who we encountered each day.
During the weekdays, we passed few people, but the majority of walkers were women, and of older age. In contrast, almost all of those we saw on mountain bikes were men. Perhaps this is a reflection of gender norms even on the hills — where more men participated in more aggressive types of physical activity than women.
All physical activity is so important — especially as we age.
The WHO Global Status Report on Physical Activity 2022 , released recently, identifies physical inactivity as a global health issue that requires immediate attention. They note inactivity is higher in high-income countries, likely due to more use of cars.
Physical activity, like walking, is so important that the WHO has created a target that aims to reduce physical inactivity internationally by 10 per cent by 2025 .
Physical inactivity is a risk factor for chronic conditions and impacts quality of life. It is estimated that about eight per cent of heart disease, depression and dementia could be prevented if people were more active .
Walking is one of the simplest and most accessible ways to effectively increase our level of physical activity, though it is too often ignored. This matters for older people because with age, individuals often accumulate not just one, but often multiple chronic conditions.
We need to encourage more walking, especially for older women, who experience chronic conditions from arthritis to dementia more commonly than men. Conditions that could be reduced or delayed through the health benefits of simply walking.
Walking can also be done outside, making it a particularly attractive way to connect with friends while minimizing the concerns around COVID-19.
Governments need to create policies and strategies to incentivize and normalize active transportation. Walking is not only a key form of exercise, but also as an alternative mode of transportation for short trips, or as an add on to public transit, to avoid the need to drive. From improved and enhanced transit and sidewalks to more trailheads and public health campaigns — there’s plenty that every level of government can do to get older people walking.
Driving contributes to physical inactivity and negatively impacts mental health. Walking provides an opportunity to really see the world around you — things missed when you drive by in a car.
On our first day, while walking over a small bridge in the remote English countryside, we saw an animal swimming in the river below, its head just visible. We wondered if it could be an otter, thinking about Beatrix Potter and her stories of animals living in the UK countryside, although this did strike us as quite large.
That evening, we told our bed and breakfast host about the animal we saw. Her immediate response was that we must have seen “ Gavin, the seal.” Gavin had garnered national attention via the BBC because he was found swimming in a river, far upstream in the countryside, where seals are just not expected.
Seeing Gavin gave us a lot to talk about and illustrated that when you walk, not only do you get good exercise, you see things, even strange things like lost seals, that you would certainly never see otherwise.
The benefits of walking and how to get the most out of it
Experts sound in on how to get the most from every stroll and stride
CBC Life · Posted: May 22, 2019
There’ll always be new fitness and workout trends to throw ourselves into (and debate the merits and efficiencies of), but it still might be worth learning how to walk before we run — or spin or box or circuit train — for lifelong health.
A recent study from Northwestern University analyzed the daily habits and exercise of more than 1,500 older adults, all with osteoarthritis symptoms, like stiffness, aching and pain, but no disability. The researchers found that participants in the study who walked briskly for at least one hour per week reduced their risk of daily-living disability (like being unable to clothe themselves) by almost 45 per cent and their risk of mobility disability (like walking too slowly to safely cross the street) by 85 per cent. With nearly five million Canadians currently suffering from osteoarthritis (projected to be one in four Canadians by 2035), these studies offer a good reminder of the importance of walking for exercise, health and mobility. We talked to two experts about why we should all start walking more and how to get the most of out it.
The hidden benefits of walking
It’s easy to dismiss walking as just what we do to get around, but it’s a full-body movement that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. “Walking is the most natural exercise there is,” says Charlotte Montgomery, a personal trainer and owner of Speed Walk Toronto. She points to the improvement of daily living, posture, balance, flexibility and core and muscular strength as some of the physical benefits.
Regular walking has also been shown to fight genetic weight gain, curb cravings, ease joint pain and strengthen your immunity. A 2015 study found that going from a sedentary lifestyle to taking 10,000 steps per day could lower your risk of mortality by 46 per cent. And regular aerobic exercise can calm the mind by reducing stress hormone levels.
The best part is that walking offers all these benefits in a scalable and low maintenance way. “Walking is a non-intimidating activity that everyone can do,” says Toronto-based personal trainer Barb Gormley. “It requires no special equipment or skill and can be done anywhere.”
What “counts” as walking?
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing — any chance to walk is a good one. There are different types of walking, from fitness-focused speed walking and adventurous hiking to strolling around the neighborhood and general walking required for everyday tasks. “Smartwatches consider any kind of stepping as walking,” Gormley says, and that the intensity or speed doesn’t matter when compared to not walking at all. But to encourage yourself to make it part of your daily routine, she says: “Use a phone app or smartwatch to track your daily steps and challenge yourself to walk a few more steps each day”.
Step-tracking technology, like the Fitbit, uses a 3-axis monitor that determines what a step is, based on your own personal movements, and tracks it separately from other markers — so you don’t have to reach a certain speed or distance to start counting your steps. If you don’t have fitness wearables, there are countless walking and fitness tracking apps that can motivate and monitor your steps in simple and fun ways. There’s even a hidden pedometer already on your iPhone. And if you’re not technologically inclined, you can always use estimates of your usual routes to get a general idea, whatever it takes to get those steps in.
Common walking mistakes
Regardless of intensity or duration, walking is great, but walking with proper form is better, as improper technique can cause difficulties over time. Erin Billowits, personal trainer and owner of Vintage Fitness, highlights the most common walking mistakes. Slapping feet, or walking with a flat food as opposed to stepping heel-to-toe can cause undue stress leading to shin splints. Less confident walkers who are worried about falling may shuffle their feet without picking them up off the ground, but that can actually increase your risk of stumbling and tripping. Another common mistake is not using your arms, which are a natural part of the walking motion and can help to propel you. If you’re walking slowly, you can have your arms straight and swinging at your sides, but for a quicker pace, you can bend your elbows and keep your arms closer to your body, in a pumping motion. Lastly, walking with poor posture, such as a forward or drooping “turtle” head can strain your head, neck and upper shoulders, something all the more common now with our constant smartphone use. Standing tall and looking forward with a braced core (the ab muscles that flex when you cough), while stepping in a deliberate and measured heel-to-toe manner is the best way to ensure your walking is as safe as it is successful.
Walking as your main exercise
Due to its ease on the body and consistent pace, “older adults are prime candidates for walking”, says Billowits. “It causes less impact on joints and doesn’t spike the heart rate like jogging and outdoor sports such as tennis.” Montgomery believes two prime candidates for walking are: “Someone who has not been physically active but wants to start working out or someone who may have been a runner and can no longer run due to an injury. Both would greatly benefit from walking.”
Walking as part of a larger regimen
A walking program can also work well in conjunction with other training. Billowits advises that walking, “should be complemented with strength training and flexibility exercise programs.” She suggests a routine of chair squats, calf raises and calf stretches to prime the key walking muscles, as well as a series of dynamic stretches to maintain a full range of mobility. “For walking to have the best fitness results,” says Montgomery, “it should be incorporated into a workout allowing for both aerobic training that builds cardiovascular endurance and anaerobic training, which is intense training done in short bursts followed by a recovery period, that builds both cardiovascular endurance as well as muscle mass and strength.” Montgomery offers a speed walking workout as an example: walking at a higher intensity for 20 to 60 seconds, slowing down or stopping for a rest period, then repeating over several intervals. But, if you want to skip the planning and get started, “the best way to begin is to just start walking,” says Gormley, then “gradually increase the time, distance and/or steps you take.”
Upping the intensity
If regular walking no longer feels like a challenge, there are plenty of ways to increase the difficulty to keep it engaging for your mind and body. Montgomery suggests incorporating higher-intensity drills, like fast walking for the distance of two lamp posts, then recovering for the same distance, and continuing this format for several minutes. You could also try timing your walk between two points in a park and repeating the distance a few times to maintain or beat your original time.
“Don’t do the same distance, the same way, every day,” says Billowits. “Change your route, do some faster walking intervals, bring a resistance band with you. Stop at a park bench and strength train in the middle of your walk.” She also suggests setting daily targets, then regularly increasing it as you grow comfortable with that goal (eg. taking 50 more steps per week). Another intensity booster is Nordic walking. “Nordic walking uses specialized poles that propel you forward,” says Gormley. “It involves your arms, shoulders and core muscles, which are typically relaxed during standard walking,” she explains, leading to increased muscle activation overall and a higher calorie burn. The simplest upgrade is to adjust your walking routine to involve stairs, hills or different terrain, increasing the intensity while hitting the same muscle groups from different angles.
“Never try to increase the intensity of walking by wearing ankle weights or carrying dumbbells,” says Gormley. “The sudden shock of the extra weight puts you at risk for strains and injuries to your joints.”
If you’re eager to add more walking into your everyday lifestyle Gormley suggests the usual: “Walk to do errands instead of driving, turn a sit-down meeting into a walking meeting, or catch up with a friend with a walk instead sitting with a coffee or a beer.” Incremental changes to your daily routine can subtly create a great baseline for when you do begin dedicated workouts.
If you’d like to jump right into a more fitness-focused walking workout, Montgomery suggests this 60-minute speed walking program:
- 5–10 minutes of warm-up walking at a brisk pace
- 5 minutes of warm-up stretching
- 25–30 minutes of high-intensity walking drills
- 5–10 minutes of strength exercises (e.g. lunges, pushups)
- 5-minute cool down walk
- 5–10 minutes of post-workout stretching
Are you ready to get moving? How do you work walking into your life? Go for a stroll and let us know in the comments below.
How to Get the Biggest Benefits of Walking
Lose weight, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress when you walk this way
By Sally Wadyka
Updated May 2, 2021
Getting exercise through walking is as easy as lacing up your sneakers and hitting the pavement or trail. Doing so is a safe way to get a workout without needing a gym, and it can boost your mental and physical health in several important ways.
“Walking is the most studied form of exercise, and multiple studies have proven that it’s the best thing we can do to improve our overall health, and increase our longevity and functional years,” says Robert Sallis, MD, a family physician and sports medicine doctor with Kaiser Permanente.
In its 2018 scientific report to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee noted that walking is the most popular aerobic activity and has one of the lowest injury rates of any form of exercise.
And a 2019 study of more than 44,000 Canadians found that people living in more walkable neighborhoods had a lower overall risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s a reason to advocate for local infrastructure that makes walking easier, says lead author Nicholas Howell, PhD, of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
Still, in the short term, “even in less walkable neighborhoods, there are ways to be active in your daily routines,” Howell says. He suggests running errands on foot, parking farther from your destination, or getting off the bus a stop early. Those small adjustments “can help fit in a few extra steps each day,” Howell says. “And they all add up.”
Here, we explain what walking can do for you—and how to maximize its many benefits.
Benefits of Walking
1. Lower body mass index (BMI): A study from the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, published in 2017 in the International Journal of Obesity confirms that those who walk more and sit less have lower BMIs, which is one indicator of obesity. In the study, those who took 15,000 or more steps per day tended to have BMIs in the normal, healthy range.
2. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol: The National Walkers’ Health study found that regular walking was linked to a 7 percent reduced risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
3. Lower fasting blood sugar (glucose): Higher blood glucose levels are a risk factor for diabetes, and the National Walkers’ Health Study also found that walkers had a 12 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
4. Better memory and cognitive function: A 2021 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that when adults 55 or older with mild cognitive impairment were assigned to either stretching and toning exercises or to aerobic training—mostly walking—both groups showed some improvement on cognitive tests. But when compared with the stretching and toning group, the group that walked for fitness improved aerobic fitness more, had decreased stiffness in neck arteries, and showed increased blood flow to the brain in ways that researchers think could provide more cognitive benefits in the long term.
A clinical trial of older adults in Japan published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2015 found that after 12 weeks, men and women in a prescribed daily walking exercise group had significantly greater improvements in memory and executive function (the ability to pay focused attention, to switch among various tasks, and to hold multiple items in working memory) compared with those in a control group who were told just to carry on with their usual daily routine.
And a study of 299 adults, published in the journal Neurology in 2010, found that walking was associated with a greater volume of gray matter in the brain, a measure of brain health.
5. Lower stress and improved mood: Like other types of aerobic exercise, walking—especially out in nature—stimulates the production of neurotransmitters in the brain (such as endorphins) that help improve your mental state.
6. Longer life: In a review of studies published in 2014 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers found that walking for roughly 3 hours a week was associated with an 11 percent reduced risk of premature death compared with those who did little or no activity.
And it’s never too late to reap the benefits of walking: A small 2013 study in the journal Maturitas found that seniors with an average age of 80 who walked just four times a week were much less likely to die over the study’s 10-year follow-up period than those who walked less.
Walking for Health
Experts agree that any amount of walking is good for you, but to get the maximum benefits of walking, you need to log some mileage and increase your intensity.
The minimum prescription for good health is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking, five days per week. “More is better, but you can get a significant portion of the health benefits of walking even with just that moderate amount,” Sallis says.
Here are five research-backed ways to sneak more steps into every day—as well as get the most out of every step you take.
1. Walk as much as you can. The University of Warwick study compared people with at least one sign of metabolic syndrome—a group of risk factors (high blood pressure, fat around the waist, high blood sugar, and high triglycerides and cholesterol) for heart disease—with those with no risk factors. They found that those who got the least activity had the most risk factors, and those who walked the most—accumulating at least 15,000 steps per day—had healthy BMIs, smaller waists, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and better blood sugar control.
Many people aim for a daily goal of 10,000 steps (or about 5 miles)—and an industry of fitness tracking devices has emerged to support them—but that magic number didn’t originate from scientific research, says John Schuna Jr., PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at Oregon State College of Public Health and Human Sciences in Corvallis. “It was first used in a Japanese marketing effort associated with one of the first commercial pedometers.” The device was called “manpo-kei,” which means “10,000 steps meter” in Japanese.
“The 10,000-steps goal is thought to be a realistic minimum, and it’s good, but for complete risk reduction, people should aim for more,” says William Tigbe, MD, PhD, a physician and public health researcher at University of Warwick and lead author of the study showing that 15,000 steps per day can lead to greater benefits. “In our study, those who took 5,000 extra steps had no metabolic syndrome risk factors at all.”
2. Pick up the pace. Another way to get more out of even a shorter walk is to do it faster. A study published in 2017 in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise looked at not just the total number of steps people took per day but also how quickly they took them.
“Those who had a faster stepping rate had similar health outcomes—lower BMI and lower waist circumference—as those who took the most steps per day,” says Schuna, one of the study authors. He recommends trying for a minimum of 100 steps per minute (roughly 2.5 to 3 mph) or as brisk a pace as you can (135 steps per minute will get you up to about a 4 mph pace).
3. Break it up. “We cannot accumulate 15,000 steps in leisure time only,” Tigbe says. “But if you take walking breaks throughout the day, it is doable.” Aim for brisk walking bouts of 10 minutes or more at a time. You’ll get in more steps and decrease the amount of time you spend being sedentary—which is a big risk factor for heart disease.
4. Try intervals. Instead of doing an entire 30-minute walk at the same moderate pace, try high-intensity interval training. Alternate between 30-second to 1-minute bursts of faster walking, followed by a minute or two of slower-paced recovery.
In one study researchers compared people who did no exercise with those who walked at a steady, moderate pace and those who mixed high and moderate intensity. The researchers found that the group that cranked up the intensity had the greatest reductions in waist circumference and abdominal fat.
5. Take it uphill. “Think of it as getting two for one,” Sallis says. “When you increase your intensity, such as walking up a steep hill, you get the equivalent benefit in half the time.”
7 surprising ways walking can benefit your body and your mind
Esther Bell / August 2, 2021
In a world of intense HIIT workouts, high-tech exercise bikes and AI-powered smart trainers, you may feel like you need gadgets and a lot of of sweat to check off your workout box for the day. But even as our exercise options get more inventive, the basics still do plenty to improve your overall health. And that includes taking walks.
Walking works your whole body, is good for your heart and helps alleviate stress. Want to add some simple movement to your daily routine? Here are some of the benefits walking can offer you.
It’s a sneaky way to work your lower body and core
Most of us take a few steps every day, so it may seem like putting one foot in front of the other takes little to no effort. But the activity actually uses a lot of muscles. Your hamstrings, glutes, quads, calves, hips and core all spring into action as you move—even the muscles that help curl your toes are used. Going for a half-hour walk at a moderate pace on a treadmill or outside can help build strength in your lower body and core, and if you crank up the incline or walk on a hill, your legs, core and back muscles get a serious workout.
Because walking is a movement we do each day, it makes it an easy exercise to start. Trainers love recommending it because, unlike lifting weights or cycling, you don’t need much (or any) equipment or extensive training to learn how to walk properly. “[Walking has] a low barrier to entry compared with other methods of physical fitness. In addition, there is no minimum effective dose or, barring injury and/or pain, upper limit. The more you move, the better off you will be,” says Timothy Lyman, certified personal trainer and director of training programs at Fleet Feet Pittsburgh, a running equipment store with locations across the United States.
Using good form will maximize your results
Walking is an intuitive movement, but paying attention to how your body is positioned will help you avoid injury, especially if you’re doing it for long periods of time. Good walking form entails keeping your head up and looking ahead during your walk, keeping your shoulders and back relaxed and swinging your arms opposite the movement of your legs.
You’ll also want to make sure your feet are comfortable and supported. You can buy walking shoes, but you may be better off investing in a pair of running shoes to stay comfortable and avoid injury while walking. They’re built to withstand more impact, which makes them suitable for a wider range of activities (including, you know, running, should you decide you want to speed up your steps). What makes a good running shoe comes down to personal preference,
but we recommend the Brooks Ghost for a neutral fit, the Brooks Adrenaline for more stability and Xero running shoes for a minimalist, barefoot feel. You can also look for a “maximal” running shoe, such as the offerings from Hoka One One, which have a chunky, curved sole that offers a ton of cushioning and makes it easy to switch between walking and running.
Walking is good for your cardiovascular health
Walking is considered aerobic exercise, and aerobic exercise (also known as “cardio”) is great for your cardiovascular health, no matter the speed at which you take it. Studies have shown that aerobic exercises like walking can reduce the risk of heart disease, strengthen your muscles to lower your resting heart rate and lower blood pressure.
The American Heart Association (AHA) advises walking 30 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, for cardiovascular health. You can go for a 30-minute walk once a day or break it up into three 10-minute segments and your health will benefit either way.
Walking can help alleviate stress
What benefits physical health often benefits mental health—and the same is true for walking. Walking can reduce stress and improve your mood, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). This is because walking as a form of exercise produces endorphins (chemicals that regulate emotions). Just five minutes of aerobic exercise—and, again, walking counts!—can start to lower anxiety, according to the ADAA.
If you have any kind of green space nearby, try to take advantage of it, as strolling in nature may be especially good for mental health. One study showed that people who went on a 90-minute nature walk reported fewer negative feelings about themselves, as well as less neural activity in the parts of the brain associated with mental illness.
Getting more steps in can improve your sleep
Walking daily can also help you get a better night’s rest. Exercise, like walking, boosts the sleep hormone melatonin, which can help you snooze more soundly. Taking more steps during the day also improved the quality of sleep at night among adults who were already getting seven hours of rest, according to a study published in the journal Sleep Health.
Getting outside in the morning for a walk can also improve your wakefulness and help set your circadian rhythm so you’ll be more awake in the morning and sleepier toward the night. If a nighttime walk is your preference, experts suggest you wrap it up three hours before bedtime so as not to energize yourself too late in the day, if you find you notice that effect.
Walking can aid fat loss
Walking is a type of cardio workout referred to as low-intensity steady-state, or LISS. LISS workouts are good for fat loss and can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight. LISS exercises should be done frequently and for extended periods of time. Experts recommend walking at least 30 minutes a day at a “brisk” pace to see the most benefits. (Lyman says you can walk for 45 minutes a day to see even more benefits.)
A brisk pace translates to 3.5 mph to 4 mph (a 17- to 15-minute mile), or 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate, according to the AHA.
The best way to monitor your heart rate is with a chest strap, such as the Polar H10. You can also use a fitness tracker, although wrist-based sensors aren’t as accurate and may be more beneficial for tracking your steps. We recommend the Fitbit Charge 4 or the Garmin Vivosmart 4, both of which automatically record your activity and heart rate.
When you’re ready, it’s easy to level up
There are plenty of ways to make your walk more challenging and get your heart pumping even more. One way is to pick up your pace, by walking faster or adding in short bursts of running intervals. You might also choose tougher terrain, either by finding a hilly area or hiking in the woods. By wearing a weighted vest or carrying a backpack filled with a few books you can also increase resistance, which translates into a better workout. Just don’t carry dumbbells or wear wrist and ankle weights, as experts say this can alter your natural stride and cause injury to hips or shoulders.
You could also try incorporating some light resistance work into your daily walk. Consider taking two or three breaks during your walk to perform some basic bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges or pushups. If you’re up for it, you can even carry resistance bands with you to make these exercises more challenging.
Feel like you need motivation to get moving more than a challenge? Use a workout app with walking programs to guide you through your steps. Peloton and Aaptiv have audio-outdoor walking workouts available via their subscriptions. If you have an Apple Watch (or think you want to get one), you can sign up for its accompanying fitness app, Apple Fitness+. Not only does Apple Fitness+ include standard workout app fare like HIIT and strength classes, it also features audio-only outdoor walking classes—led by celebrities such as Dolly Parton, Shawn Mendes and Jane Fonda—that allow you to detach from the screen and stroll.