Walk Your Way to Better Health

The key to a longer, healthier life may be just a few steps away.

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A good pair of walking shoes and a few minutes each day are all you need to boost your mood and improve your health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, each week. That’s only 30 minutes per day, five times a week! While that doesn’t seem like much, most of us are not meeting those guidelines. According to a 2018 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than one in four Americans get enough exercise.

If you don’t have the time or endurance for long workouts, just try moving more and sitting less. Any exercise is better than none, experts advise. Shorter bouts of physical activity can also add up over time. Every minute counts toward your weekly fitness goals, and will help reduce your risk for a slew of chronic health issues, like heart disease and diabetes.

Recent Gallup and Healthways research found that areas with the greatest walkability to any address were correlated with lower rates of obesity, diabetes and chronic pain, and residents of those areas felt more confident about their physical appearance.

It’s easy to start walking—just get moving, even if you only start with 5 minutes. Keep tabs of your progress by downloading a tracking app, such as Sharecare, which is available on iOS and Android. Take your phone on your stroll and Sharecare’s step counter will automatically log your movement.

Now that you know where to start and how to track, find out the health benefits that you’ll notice when you start walking every day.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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Lose weight

Performing the recommended amount of exercise each week is great—but sneaking in a little extra can do wonders for your waistline. About 300 minutes of exercise a week, or one hour each day, is enough to control weight.

Optimize your walking and burn more calories with interval training. This type of workout combines of short bursts of intense activity with periods of lighter recovery, which can increase weight loss.

Start simple. As you’re walking, pick a spot ahead. Increase your pace until you reach it, then reduce your speed. Continue this pattern throughout your walk.

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Decrease diabetes risk

Walking has the potential to manage and decrease a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes—a condition which prevents the body from properly using insulin. Over time, type 2 diabetes can damage the heart, nerves, eyes and kidneys.

Weight is the primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes, so it’s important to eat a balanced, nutritious diet and exercise regularly. Walking is an easy way to sneak in a workout—and one study found that people who walked regularly had a 12.3 percent lower risk of diabetes.

Interval training can burn more calories to promote weight loss. Alternate between two minutes of moderately-paced walking and one minute of fast walking.

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Make your heart healthy

Heart disease can be scary, but walking can reduce your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke. Surprisingly, running and walking have about the same effect per mile of lowering one’s risk of heart disease. That means a person who runs a mile receives the same benefits of another person who walks a mile.

In a six-year study involving approximately 48,000 people (33,060 runners and 15,045 walkers), walking decreased a person’s risk of hypertension by 7.2 percent, high cholesterol by 7 percent and coronary heart disease by 9.3 percent. Running reduced a person’s risk of hypertension by 4.2 percent, high cholesterol by 4.3 percent and coronary heart disease by 4.5 percent.

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Reduce stress

Work, relationships and money can be stressful, but hitting the sidewalk can help alleviate it. How? Exercise releases endorphins , chemicals in the brain that fight pain and reduce stress. Physical activity also increases your feelings of accomplishment, giving you an automatic mood boost.

Exhale your stress and anxiety before your walk with a few minutes of stretching! Loosen your calves, hips and chest to reduce your risk of injury and increase blood flow.

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Slow mental decline

An occasional memory lapse is normal, especially as we get older, but walking may help slow cognitive decline. A study of 6,000 women over the age of 65 suggests that 24 percent of women who walked less than half of a mile each week experienced a decline in memory. However of those who walked about two and a half miles each day, only 17 percent experienced a cognitive decline during the six to eight year follow-up period.

Try mixing running to your walking routine. Incorporate short bursts of jogging or sprinting into your daily activity with a 20-10 interval—walk about 20 feet, and sprint or jog for 10 feet.

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Improve sleep

A brisk morning walk can set your body up for restful sleep at night. Exercise, like walking, boosts melatonin production, a natural sleep hormone found in your body. One study suggests postmenopausal women who get three and a half hours of exercise each week had an easier time falling asleep than those who exercised less.

It’s possible to fit walking into even the busiest schedule. If you don’t have 30 minutes to commit to moving, do as much as you can, as often as you can—it all adds up and offers health benefits.

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Live longer

The secret to a longer life might be your pair of sneakers. One study suggests people in their 50s and 60s who exercise regularly are 35 percent less likely to die within eight years when compared to those who don’t.

There’s more. A November 2017 study published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, suggests older women could increase their longevity by taking a brisk walk every day. For the study, more than 17,700 women, with an average age of 72, were asked to wear tracking devices whenever they were awake. The wearable technology measured the amount and intensity of physical activity.

Researchers found participants who logged a daily average of 70 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity—like brisk walking—had a roughly 60 percent to 70 percent lower risk of death, compared to the least active participants, who averaged just eight minutes of daily activity.

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Achieve your goals with friends

Belonging to a group of supportive friends is the most influential thing you can do for your health and wellness. A Moai is a group of people gathering for a common purpose, including fitness. Try forming a Walking Moai with your family, friends and neighbors; not only will you form lifelong bonds, but you’ll hold each other accountable in achieving your goals, too.

If friendly competition motivates your group, have them download a steps tracker, like Sharecare. The Sharecare app has weekly and monthly steps challenges that everyone can join. Compete with your friends and family to see who can move the most.

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