Health Benefits of Walking

exercise shoesWalking may be the perfect exercise: it requires no equipment or special training, and you can do it anywhere. Plus, experts agree that walking is one of the most ideal forms of cardiovascular exercise you can get. Long before we could rely on cars, planes or even bicycles to get around, walking served as a basic human function, letting us get from point A to point B. Now, many individuals “take a walk” not for transportation, but for health. Scientists and physical fitness experts observe benefits not only to walkers’ physical health, but also their mental wellness.

Physical Benefits

Taking regular, brisk walks can help you maintain your ideal weight, strengthen your bones, and reduce the likelihood of various cardiovascular health conditions. According to Mayo Clinic, individuals who walk regularly may have a lower risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. The American Heart Association also correlates regular walking with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Some studies also find a correlation between regular walking and longer life span, reduced risk of certain cancers, better joint and bone health, and lower cholesterol levels. Compared with running and other high-impact forms of aerobic exercise, walking has the benefit of imposing less stress on the knees and hip joints. As a result, walking strengthens your cardiovascular functions without excessively burdening your joints. For individuals with arthritis or other joint problems, this makes walking an excellent option.

Mental Benefits

In addition to the physical merits, regular walking can have exceptionally positive effects on mental health. Regular physical activity, such as walking, has been tied to a decrease in depression as well as improved overall psychological health. In studies conducted on school children, regular walking may be linked with improved academic performance. In addition, children who walk to school instead of riding on a bus or car can improve their sense of independence and self-reliance, a critical factor toward their development of social skills and overall mental wellness. For many regular walkers, the daily walk also serves an important social function. Take a regular walk around your neighborhood and you’re more likely to get to know your neighbors and feel the bonds of community, an important component of mental health. For busy individuals who struggle to juggle social lives with busy workdays, walking can also offer an opportunity to connect with a regular walking buddy.

Walking Safely

In many communities, where the infrastructure is primarily designed to accommodate automobile traffic, pedestrians need to exercise caution when deciding where to walk. Avoid walking very close to busy streets and use even sidewalks whenever possible. If you walk at night, wear reflective clothing or carry a flashlight. If you are beginning a new walking routine after a period of inactivity, build up your walking program gradually. If you are obese or have any cardiovascular or other serious health conditions, consult with a doctor before making any drastic changes to your exercise habits. In general, walking is an extremely good way of resuming physical exercise after a period of inactivity, offering a gentler re-entry than running or more intense or high-impact sports.

Helping the Community by Walking

Walking can offer exceptional benefits not only toward your personal health, but also toward the well-being of others. Many charitable organizations use “walk-a-thons” as a primary means of fundraising. More inclusive than marathons, these events encourage individuals to walk a certain distance and, in the process, raise funds for the charity. If you enjoy walking or you wish to support a cause, you may “pledge” to walk a certain distance for every dollar of donated money you receive. The specific terms of such walkathons vary. In most cases, they combine the health benefits of walking with a positive, community-minded social event and fund-raising for a charitable organization.

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