When most people think of getting a good workout, the benefits of walking is usually not what comes to mind. However, it most certainly fits the bill and is, in fact, one of the easiest and most basic forms of exercise.
It’s an exercise that almost every single able-bodied individual can partake in, explains Atlanta-based yoga instructor, personal trainer and founder of Grateful Sweat, Stephanie George. “Not only does walking not require any equipment or specialized clothing like other exercises like running or weightlifting, but it also has less of an impact on your joints and can be done for longer periods of time,” she says. “It’s so accessible— you can walk around your neighborhood, the park or even on your lunch break all the while strengthening your bones, reducing excess body fat and boosting your endurance.”
Some people feel like, if they’re not breaking a sweat, they’re not getting “true” exercise, but this is not always the case. Walking is what’s known as an endurance workout, if performed for long enough. In fact, if you walk for long enough, you can burn just as many calories as if you were running or cycling, notes Stephanie Mansour, a Chicago-based weight loss coach and corporate wellness trainer.
But it’s not just your physicality that stands to gain from walking. There are plenty of benefits of walking—especially outdoors—that go beyond physical. Here, fitness pros share some of their favorite benefits of walking.
It can boost your mental health
Walking, especially outside, has some impressive benefits for your mental health. “Firstly, you’re more likely to get vitamin D through sun exposure—and this nutrient is important for a lot of things, including mental health,” explains Robert Dodds, C.P.T., personal trainer, a fitness coach and founder of nothingbarredfitness.com. In fact, one study published in the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing found that being deficient in vitamin D is linked to an increase of depression and anxiety.
It’s a great way to socialize
Most physical exercises can be performed alongside another person, whether it’s a friend, family member or co-worker. The more intense the exercise, however, the harder it is to keep up a conversation. Luckily, walking is relatively low-intensity, so it is the perfect exercise to perform side-by-side with someone you’re looking to catch up with. “You can also challenge your friends and family with apps like Aaptiv,” says Dodds. “This is a fun way to introduce some competition into your social circle.”
It reduces your risk of mental decline
One of the non-physical benefits of walking outside may be one that could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease—a type of dementia that is becoming increasingly common and affects more than 6 million Americans, per the Alzheimer’s Association. Research, including one study by the Radiological Society of North America has shown that walking five miles each week can help slow cognitive decline in adults, thus reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s as well as disease progression.
It lowers your stress level
Stress is a real problem in America, with an estimated 67 percent of U.S. adults reporting that they’ve felt stress over the course of the last few years, per research from the American Psychological Association. Walking may be one of the easiest ways to reduce everyday stress. In fact, one study published in SAGE journals showed that walking outside as a form of exercise was able to reduce the stress hormone cortisol in participants. “The lowering of cortisol levels is commonly associated with reduced stress on the body, so stress relief with walking outside is a benefit we all can take advantage of,” says Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales Pennsylvania.
All in all, the benefits of walking are easy to attain for most individuals. Even if you don’t own a treadmill or have access to a gym, you can use the outdoors as your playing field. Start small—with just a mile at a time—and work your way up. Before you know it, a 30 minute walk will become something you can incorporate into your everyday routine.