Walking is the nation’s most popular form of exercise. More than a third of us—111 million Americans—routinely go for walks to maintain our health and wellness.
The benefits of walking are both profound and well-proven. Putting one foot in front of the other is linked to longer life, weight loss, stronger bones and muscles, better mood, improved lung function, and lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
Now, new research shows there’s a way to make walking even more beneficial.
The study was published in the Journal of Transport and Health. Researchers analyzed health data from 125,885 people. The subjects tracked the time they spent walking and the reasons for their walks.
The researchers found that walking any amount of time for any reason improves health. That’s no revelation.
But what did come as surprise is this…
When you walk with a specific purpose—such as to work or to shop—it boosts health more than when you walk simply for recreation.
Professor Gulsah Akar was one of the study authors. She said that she went into the research project thinking “that walking is walking.” But she and her colleagues discovered that “walking for some purpose has significantly greater effect on our health.”
One reason may be because people walk slightly faster when they walk to go somewhere, Professor Akar said. Subjects moved at a 2.7-mph pace when walking with a purpose. Recreational walkers averaged 2.55 mph.
5 Ways Walking Makes You Healthier
- Better mental health. An article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that walking “reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.” It also stimulates endorphins. These are brain chemicals that are natural painkillers and mood elevators.
- More creativity. A study from Stanford University found that walking promotes creative thinking both during and immediately after you do it. The researchers said that their subjects’ creative output increased by 60% when walking.
This would have been no surprise to Albert Einstein. He always walked to his job at Princeton University. People in cars would often stop and ask if he wanted a ride. But Einstein always refused. He insisted that the daily mile-and-a-half walk from his home to his university office was crucial to his thinking skills.
- Less cancer. An American Cancer Society study found that women who walk at least seven hours a week have a 14% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who walk three hours or less per week. Walking provides the same benefit even for women at high-risk for breast cancer because of factors such as using hormone therapy or being overweight.
- Longer life. In areas of the world where people live the longest—such as rural Japan and Italy—residents walk far more than we do in the U.S. But researchers have found that even minimal amounts of strolling are associated with lower mortality risk.
- Smaller waistline. A 2015 study by the London School of Economics followed about 100,000 subjects. It found that people who walked for more than 30 minutes a day had smaller waists than those who did other forms of exercise.
It concluded that walking prevents obesity better than any other activity.
The bottom line?
Walk with a purpose whenever you can. Instead of using your car as your default mode of transportation, consider walking first. Walk to work, to shop, to restaurants, to the gym…walk wherever and whenever you can, whenever you can.
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