Walking on a regular basis could help you fight cold and flu season

·6-min read
Photo credit: Claudio Lavenia - Getty Images
Photo credit: Claudio Lavenia - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

Don't underestimate the power of walking. Despite it being low-impact and not as intense as other cardio workouts, like running or HIIT, the benefits are impressive.

"One of the biggest misconceptions about walking is that it’s not an effective weight-loss tool and that it requires a lot of time and effort for minimal results," says Keri Peterson, MD. But the truth is that walking can actually help you lose weight, among several other significant life perks. And you can start reaping the benefits with just 30 minutes a day, she adds.

But walking isn’t just good for weight loss alone. "Research finds that walking regularly reduces the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease," Dr. Peterson says.

To take advantage of those benefits, however, requires more than your typical stroll to the shops. "Many of us get into what I call a walking rut," says Michele Stanten, an ACE-certified fitness instructor, walking coach, and author of The Walking Solution. We get lulled into the same, everyday stride and don't realise that even a brisk walk around the block can do your health some good.

Even better? “Try to walk on terrain with hills to vary the incline and pick up your pace on and off throughout your walk,” Dr. Peterson says. This will add intensity to the workout; you want a mix of high and low intensity which will help increase your cardio fitness.

If you're still on the fence about walking and how good it is for you, here are 10 benefits that are backed by science and experts. The sooner you get to walking (in some arch-supported shoes, of course!), the faster you can start reaping the rewards.

1. Walking can boost your mood.

Feeling a little glum lately? Lace up your shoes and get moving. Walking for an hour a day can reduce your risk of depression, according to a 2019 JAMA Psychiatry study. Researchers actually saw a 26 per cent decrease in odds of developing depression with increased physical activity, like walking. "Intentionally moving your body in more gentle ways throughout the day—like walking, stretching, taking the stairs, doing the dishes—can still add up in good ways for your mood," study author Karmel Choi told Harvard Health.

2. It can increase creativity.

The next time you're stuck for ideas, sign off social media and take a stroll around the block. Going for a walk can actually increase creativity levels, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Researchers observed 176 students performing a series of tasks while seated versus while walking. And they found that walking could amp up a person's creative output by an impressive 60 per cent.

3. Walking will help you burn calories and lose weight.

Walking at a brisk pace that engages your arms (yes, arm pumping is good!), will recruit several upper and lower body muscles to help you burn calories, Dr. Peterson explains. "If you're able to vary your pace with more intense intervals of inclined or rapid walking to elevate your heart rate, you will also increase the calories burned," she says. You want to aim for 15,000 steps per day, seven days a week, if weight loss is one of your fitness goals, Hannah Davis, CSCS, previously told Women's Health.

4. Walking can promote better heart health.

According to a 2018 observational study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology analysing more than 90,000 participants, walking for at least 40 minutes, two or three times a week (average or brisk pace), was associated with a reduced risk of developing heart failure in postmenopausal women.

5. Walking can strengthen your muscles.

Don't just rely on weighted exercises alone to build muscle, strengthen, and tone. As with running, you can build muscle while walking, especially if you weren't a big walker before or if you vary your speed, incline (so head for those hills), or resistance (think: ankle weights) to up the intensity. "Walking engages plenty of leg muscles," Peterson says. This includes those in your thighs, glutes, calves and hamstrings.

6. It could reduce your risk of diabetes if you're prediabetic.

If you're already on the cusp of diabetes and looking for way to reduce your chances of being diagnosed, go for a brisk walk. In a 2016 study out of Duke University, researchers compared participants with prediabetes as they walked briskly or jogged 13.8 miles a week for 6 months. Walking actually showed nearly six times greater improvement in the participant's glucose tolerance, compared to those who jogged.

7. It could help you sleep better at night.

Haven't caught enough shut-eye lately? Taking a walk might help you have a better night's sleep. In a small, observational study published in Sleep Health, research showed that adults who increased the time they spent walking during the day slept better at night. And those who averaged the most steps throughout the duration of the study, reported significantly better sleep than those who walked the least.

8. Walking can boost your immunity.

This one might come as a surprise, but walking can actually give your immune system an extra hand, which could prove to be useful this cold and flu season. Peterson nods to a 2011 study published in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine, which showed that among the 1,000 participants studied, those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week, had 43 per cent fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And those who did get sick were ill over a shorter period of time—and their symptoms were milder.

Better still, more recent research supports walking's immunity boosting benefits. A 2018 study in BMC Public Health found that the risk of having one or more episodes of the common cold was reduced by 26 per cent for adults who walked at least three times a week.

9. Walking can increase overall longevity.

But speed matters. Brisk walkers can actually live longer, according to a 2019 Mayo Clinic Proceedings study. Researchers recorded self-reported walking speeds and body mass indexes (BMI) of over 400,000 participants and followed up with them for almost seven years. There were over 12,800 deaths during this time and they used this data to estimate the life expectancy of the cohort. They were able to determine that, despite BMI, those who reported themselves as brisk walkers had increased longevity, compared to those who identified as slower walkers (87–88 years expectancy versus 72–85 years).

To top that, the study also showed that brisk-walking women (those who walked over 4 mph) could have a 15-year life expectancy boost over those who walked at less than 3 mph. And the increase for men could reach up to 20 years. So grab your partner and start walking together.

10. It can reduce cravings.

If you're a late-night snacker, then you'll be particularly swayed by these walking benefits. A 15-minute brisk walk, instead of being sedentary, could reduce your craving for sugary snacks per a 2015 PLOS One study.

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