The Benefits of Walking


One of the easiest ways to get moving is to go for a walk. Going for a brisk walk can help meet the weekly recommended guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate activity.1 That’s equivalent of getting out for a 30 minute walk, five days a week. Walking a Monday Mile is a great way to start off the week to move you closer to reaching physical activity goals. There are many benefits of physical activity and walking can help realize many of them.

Helps regulate blood sugar and improves digestion. Walking after a meal, as little as 15 minutes, can help lower blood sugar levels and improve digestion. Additionally, walking after a meal was shown in older adults who were overweight and sedentary to regulate blood sugar levels just as effectively as one 45-minute walk in the morning.2

Improves blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Walking briskly can lower your risk of high blood pressure as well as high cholesterol, almost as much as running. The more time people spend walking, the more health benefits accrue.3

Reduce mortality. One study showed that walkers’ mortality rates progressively improved until leveling off at approximately 7,500 steps per day. Women in that study had a 41% reduction in mortality with an average of 4,400 steps a day.4

Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Research demonstrates that around 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.5

Reduce the risk of certain cancers. Meeting physical activity guidelines can lower your risk of colon,6 breast,7 endometrial,8 and lung cancer.9

Improves mood and lowers depression. Brisk walking, like many exercises, causes the body to release endorphins that dull pain receptors in the brain and trigger positive feelings associated with euphoria. Walking and other exercises are also associated with helping to treat depression. Finding a walking partner or group and doing the exercise four to five times a week could help benefit those with depression.10

Helps achieve and maintain a healthy weight. In combination with a healthy diet, physical activity can help control weight. Even those who are genetically susceptible to having obesity can benefit from physical activity.11

Burns calories. Walking at different paces will burn calories at different rates. The brisker the walk the more calories an individual can burn in the same amount of time. There are several calculators available to help estimate the number of calories burned for a given walk.12 An individual can also try a variety of walking routes or different environments to stick to a routine while burning calories.13

Increase cognitive function. Studies show that exercise can help increase mental capacities.14 In a study of college students, those who exercised on a regular basis had higher grades and GPAs than those who were sedentary.[15] Another study found that walking helped increase creative output by 60% compared to sitting.16

It’s an activity for most people. Walking may be the best exercise option for those who are pregnant, obese, or suffering from arthritis. For those who are 100 pounds or more above the ideal body weight, getting started with walking may be difficult at first. Starting with just two to five minutes a day, then adding an extra two minutes every third day may help ease the body into a walking routine and should minimize impacts on the joints.17

Overall, walking is an accessible way to ease into a physical activity routine. While a walker needs comfortable shoes and clothing, it is virtually a free activity. With all of the benefits that come from walking, an individual should walk as much as possible, but each session no matter how long, is better than not moving at all.18

For more tips and resources to promote Move it Monday, click here.

[1] Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. 2018. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[2] O’Conner, A. 2013. Really? The Claim: Taking a Walk After a Meal Aids Digestion. New York Times.

[3] Why is Walking the Most Popular Form of Exercise? 2017. The American Heart Association.

[4] Lee I, Shiroma EJ, Kamada M, Bassett DR, Matthews CE, Buring JE. 2019. Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(8):1105–1112.

[5] Jeon, CY; Lokken, RP; Hu, FB; van Dam, RM. 2007. Physical activity of moderate intensity and risk of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review. Diabetes Care, 30(3), 744-752.

[6] Wolin, KY; Patel, AV; Campbell, PT; Jacobs, EJ; McCullough, ML; Coldtiz, GA; Gapstur, SM. 2010. Change in physical activity and colon cancer incidence and mortality. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 19, 3000-4.

[7] Lynch, BM; Neilson, HK; Friedenreich, CM (2011). Physical activity and breast cancer prevention. Physical activity and Cancer: Recent results in cancer research, 186, 13-42.

[8] Friedenreich, CM; Cook, LS; Magliocco, AM; Duggan, MA; Courneya, KS. 2010. Case-control study of lifetime total physical activity and endometrial cancer risk. Cancer Causes Control, 21, 1105-1116.

[9] Emaus, A; Thune, I. 2010. Physical activity and lung cancer prevention. Physical Activity and Cancer: Recent Results in Cancer Research Volume, 186, 101-133.

[10] Bhandari, S. 2018. Exercise and Depression. WebMD.

[11] Kilpeläinen TO, Qi L, Brage S, Sharp SJ, Sonestedt E, et al. 2011. Physical Activity Attenuates the Influence of FTO Variants on Obesity Risk: A Meta-Analysis of 218,166 Adults and 19,268 Children. PLoS Med 8(11): e1001116.

[12] Chapman, G. Calories Burned Walking Calculator. and CalorieLab. Calories burned search results for Walking.

[13] Knadler, J. 2011. 3 Walking Routines That Blast Calories. Prevention.

[14] Raichlan, D.A., Gordon, A.D. 2011. Relationship between Exercise Capacity and Brain Size in Mammals. PLOS: ONE.

[15] Parker-Pope, T. 2010. Vigorous Exercise Linked With Better Grades. New York Times.

[16] Wong, M. 2014. Stanford study finds walking improves creativity. Stanford Report.

[17] Thomas, J. 2017. The Best Exercise for Someone Morbidly Obese. Livestrong.

[18] Mayo Clinic Staff. 2016. Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health. Mayo Clinic.