As recently as 5 years ago, if you had told me that walking was considered exercise I probably would have laughed and made fun of you. I have a background in military special operations, which tends to consist of extreme physical pursuits and performance.
To me, at the time, exercise meant you needed to either be lifting heavy, running far, or running fast.
You had to crush yourself day in and day out to prove that you were tough and resilient. You needed to be a top physical performer across a wide range of different disciplines. Walking (unless wearing a heavy ruck) was just something unfit people do.
While this type of training can be beneficial for some people and for short periods of time, it’s not the best approach for long term health, fitness and longevity.
Flash forward to the present day, and I realize how undeniably wrong I was about walking. Over the last year, I’ve significantly reduced my running volume while simultaneously increasing my overall daily step count.
In fact, I averaged over 19,000 steps per day in 2021 of which less than 10% was in the form of running. This has resulted in far better recovery between training sessions, better body composition, less overall stress, little to no nagging pain, and continued ability to perform highly in cardiovascular events.
Backed by countless research studies, I’ve now come to realize how important and highly beneficial the simple act of walking can be.
In this blog post, I will break down all of the magnificent benefits of walking and why you too should consider doing more of it.
Walking Can Help You Live Longer
A study conducted by the Jama Network Open concluded that people who walk at least 7,000 steps a day (about 1 hour or total walking) experience a 50-70% decreased risk of premature death and all-cause mortality. Does this mean that you have to go for an hour-long walk each day? Not necessarily.
If you’re a relatively active person, you may be able to get this many steps just by going about your daily activities.
If not, I recommend making an effort to go on 1-3 short, 10 minute walks per day. If you walk 3 times daily for 10 minutes each, this should take care of about 4,000 steps. Chances are, the rest of your daily activities will enable you to achieve the following 3,000.
Keep in mind, 7,000 steps isn't some sort of magic number. If you walk 7,000 steps per day but don’t prioritize any other healthy activities like quality sleep, strength training and nutrition, you likely won’t benefit much from it.
But if you’re conscious about eating well, sleeping adequately, and occasionally strength training, adding a moderate amount of additional daily movement can be the finishing touch on a healthier lifestyle.
Walking for Cardio and Recovery
Walking is loaded with other benefits as well. It’s a great way to improve cardiovascular health while not taxing recovery from your training.
Unlike running or some other forms of cardio, walking not only doesn’t interfere with muscle recovery, but actually promotes it!
So if you’re feeling sore from a leg workout, going on a walk will actually reduce this soreness and enable you to train legs again sooner than if you were to just sit around or do other forms of cardio. Faster recovery leads to increased training frequency which leads to more progress and gains.
Walking can also be a catalyst to burning body fat. For an average 180 Lb male, walking 10,000 steps will burn 400-600 additional calories. So the more you walk, the more you can eat!
When to Walk
If you want to completely optimize your walking, doing them at certain times of the day will help you kill many birds with one stone.
Morning walks after the sun rises will help you not only start your day with a win, but sunlight exposure in the morning has proven benefits for your circadian rhythm, and therefore sleep quality.
Not only that, but getting sun on your skin is highly beneficial for increasing your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is essential for proper immune function, skin health, mood, hormone function, and many other important bodily functions.
Another great time to walk is postprandial (after meals). Postprandial walks have been shown to improve digestion and insulin sensitivity, and are also a great way to make walking habitual.
Walking after meals is a great example of habit-grouping, which essentially means that you pair a new habit with another habit that you’ve already established. We all have a habit of eating meals, so pairing a meal with a short walk can be a great way to increase activity!
Killing Even More Birds With One Stone
You can couple walking with several other beneficial activities that will improve your life.
For example, you can walk in the morning after sunrise to get the benefits listed above.
You can bring your dog(s) so they get exercise and their bathroom needs out of the way. You can walk with a friend or significant other and have great conversation.
You can walk alone with just your thoughts, or listen to a podcast or audiobook and learn. Other times, maybe you're in the mood for some music.
You can even walk with a backpack (rucking) and get your heart rate up into a more cardiovascularly beneficial range all the while strengthening your hips, legs and upper back.
There are so many different options when it comes to walking, be creative and find what works for you.
Walking for Mental Health
Finally, the most underrated benefit of walking in my opinion, is how it affects your mental health. Walking in nature is clinically proven to improve mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve creativity.
Some of my best ideas have come from going on walks without my phone or headphones and just letting my mind work. If I’m feeling anxious, depressed, or particularly lazy, a simple walk is sometimes just what I need. Do not underestimate the powerful effects walking has on your mental health.
Wrapping it Up
I am not a doctor. But if I could recommend something to most people it would be: before turning to drugs or other destructive behaviors to try and improve your mental health, try increasing the frequency and volume with which you walk.
Likewise, if you’re struggling to get into hard intense exercise and make it habitual, going on walks is a great way to build momentum. Add a bit more walking into your routine, and you may be blown away by the results!
In conclusion, walking is simple, accessible, and healthy in so many different ways. If you can just make an effort to include a few 10-20 minute walks into your day, you’ll likely be happier and surely be healthier. If you want to walk more than that? Even Better!
Thank you for reading! What's your favorite aspect of walking? Do you walk by yourself, with your significant other, or with your dog? How many steps a day do you try and aim for?
Leave a comment Below!