6 reasons to walk more

November 20, 2023

Healthy Aging Wellness Primary Care
couple walking

The benefits of cardiovascular exercise are well known, but you don't need to be a jogger or cyclist to reap the rewards. Walking is a low impact form of exercise that can enhance your immune system, burn fat and even boost your mood. 

"Walking is a great way to get exercise that is manageable for most people," says Vickie Armstrong, DNP, GNP-BC

1. Keep your heart in shape

As you start walking, your heart has to work a bit harder to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your muscles to keep you moving. When you pick up the pace, you start to breathe faster, and the intensity ramps up.

"Your heart is a muscle, and just like the muscles in your arms and legs, it gets stronger with regular exercise," says Armstrong. 

2. Burn fat and build muscle

Your body uses both blood sugar and fat to fuel endurance activities such as walking, biking and running. Endurance exercise involves maintaining a moderate pace for an extended time period.

As you walk, your body will pull on circulating blood sugar from your last meal as well as body stores of fat to supply your muscles with energy for the work. 

Using your leg muscles to move your legs and your arm muscles for balance and forward motion will break down muscle tissue. After the walk is completed, and when you are sleeping, the body will repair that muscle and rebuild it to be even stronger. 

3. Ease joint pain 

The Arthritis Foundation notes that walking is a simple, free and effective way to reduce joint pain. Walking helps joint pain in a few different ways. First, walking helps maintain a healthy body weight, which in turn takes the pressure off of joints so they can move more freely. Walking also increases the range of motion of the joints and strengthens the muscles around them. 

It's common to avoid activity with pain. But in the case of arthritic joint pain, walking does the body good.

4. Enhance immune function 

Walking and other forms of exercise boost the activity of your body's immune cells. The rise in temperature that comes with a brisk walk may also kill bacteria and viruses, much like a fever. Changes in breathing patterns during exercise may also flush bacteria out of your airways.

5. Boost mood and lower stress  

Walking reduces circulating stress hormones, like cortisol, that increase hunger and fat storage, impair digestion and interfere with brain function. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, a 20-minute walk outside in nature reduced stress hormones significantly among study participants.

Brisk walking increases happiness chemicals known as endorphins and increases oxygen to the brain. Not surprisingly, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found that walking and running decreased the odds of becoming depressed. 

6. Improves balance 

Walking helps to stabilize and strengthen the muscles in your legs that help you balance. Balance can get worse with age or from sitting too much and losing muscle. Poor balance can lead to injuries from falls that are preventable with regular, safe, exercise such as walking.

How much should I walk for exercise? 

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. Walking five times a week for 30 minutes will achieve this physical activity goal.

A good indicator of intensity is the talk test. You should be able to carry on a conversation while walking, but if you can sing a song, you probably need to move a little faster to hit moderate intensity. 

Lace up and get moving for good health

The health benefits of walking are a simple shoe change away. To get started, grab your sneakers, lace up and get moving.

At the Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health, our expert team of physicians is here to keep you active for the long haul. Make an appointment with our comprehensive geriatric assessment clinic today. 



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