Benefits of walking: radically improve your health, in just 20 minutes a day
“Walking is man’s best medicine” said none other than Hippocrates, the great Greek physician who is recognised as the founder of modern medicine. Even today, experts agree that there is no other medicine that can positively impact our health in the same way as a daily walk. And that is despite the vast range of pharmaceutical drugs and medical technology we now have within our reach.
Human beings were not made to sit around. We need to move and not moving is causing us more health problems than you can imagine. The World Health Organization (WHO) cites physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for illness and early death worldwide.
You don’t need hard-core workouts. Walking is free, it’s simple and just about anyone can do it. It’s also enjoyable and can be social. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes and away you go to improve your health and wellbeing!
Make walking your new magic pill
As little as 20 minutes a day of walking has been shown to provide amazing health benefits. Here’s just a few benefits of walking:
- Burns calories – and boosts metabolism which can help you maintain or lose weight, without any other lifestyle changes.
- Improves blood sugar control – walking improves insulin sensitivity and can help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes.
- Protects your heart – just 20 minutes a day can cut your risk of heart disease by 30%.
- Keeps your body strong – walking activates all your major muscle groups and improves strength.
- Prevents colds – studies show walkers experience around 25% fewer colds than non-walkers.
- Boosts energy levels – and reduces fatigue.
- Get better sleep – research shows that 20-30 minutes of walking a day can help you fall asleep 50 percent faster and keep you asleep for one hour longer.
- Enhances your mood – the endorphins released by walking trigger positive feelings that can help prevent stress, anxiety and depression.
- Reduces pain – those with arthritis could experience a 50 percent reduction in pain.
- Maintains bone mineral density – and prevents osteoporosis. That’s because walking is a weight bearing exercise.
- Reduces your cancer risk – especially colon and breast cancer.
- Sharpens your memory – plus reduces your dementia risk. Walking three times a week improved memory and reversed age-related loss in one study group.
- Inspires creativity – especially if you can enjoy the beauty of nature (think greenery, trees, birds, beaches, sunrises or sunsets) while you walk.
What’s also interesting is that studies show that people who take part in some form of physical activity, make better food choices too. So that’s a potential doubling up of health benefits right there!
And one more fact to convince you to get out and about for a walk - many of the benefits of walking listed above are either not seen (or not as profound) in people that run marathons, lift weights in the gym, or spend hours on a treadmill. Just in those that walk every day. How’s that for inspiration?
What the guidelines say about physical activity and sitting
The Australian Department of Health recently updated its guidelines and for adults now recommends:
- Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. Start with something and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
- Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.
- Each week, accumulate:
- 2.5 - 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, swimming, social tennis, dancing). Your 20 minutes a day of walking gets you to 2.4 hours per week! or
- 1.25 – 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity (e.g. aerobics, jogging, boxing, many competitive sports), or an equivalent combination of both.
- Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.
- Minimise the time spent in prolonged sitting. Studies now show that prolonged sitting is linked to increased risk of a number of health conditions. These include back pain, osteoarthritis, weight gain, muscle degeneration, cardiovascular issues, cancer risk and diabetes risk.
Whatever your fitness level is right now, why not get out and give walking a go? Start small if you need and gradually build up to 20 minutes a day (or more if you can). There’s no downside - your health, your heart and your head will thank you for it!-