In our fast-paced world, the idea of walking casually to our destination seems like a thing of the past. Whether it’s due to bad pedestrian infrastructure or just the convenience of calling for an Uber at such a low cost, people are just becoming more inactive. Don’t take my word for it, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that levels of inactivity increase as countries develop.
We can all agree that walking is good for health. While it is popular for its cardiovascular benefits, people are less aware of the other benefits that come from walking such as putting you in a better mental state and strengthening your muscles and joints. In this article, we’ll take a look at two other ways walking makes you look good, feel good, and just be a better version of yourself.
Strengthens Muscles and Joints
Physical activity will strengthen your muscles. This applies to walking as well. If you’re up for the challenge, choose a hillier route or set some incline on the treadmill. This strengthens your glutes and hamstrings and has carryover to your lower back strength too. As long as you are watching your posture, your lower back works hard to keep your body upright and becomes stronger. You may not get the thighs of Usain Bolt from walking uphill every day, but for the average person who wants to keep themselves fit and healthy, this is a great option.
Your joints, especially your knees benefit from this too. As you walk, the joint fluid “circulates” and lubricates your knees, and reduces friction. For people with arthritis, walking has shown to reduce that pain. But do seek professional medical advice prior to that, as each case will be different!
We encourage investing in shoes that offer adequate arch support to protect your joints if you are serious about incorporating more walking in your routine. If you happen to have high arches, then look for walking shoes for high arches. Some people naturally have flat feet, and this can be damaging to the knees in the long run. Shoes for flat feet tend to have higher arch support and puts the knees in a better angle.
Improved Mental Function
I’m not going to exaggerate the mental health benefits of walking. No, it’s not going to cure your depression, but it may alleviate the symptoms to an extent. But in many ways, walking is by far one of the best ways to put you in a state of mental clarity, just because it’s practically free. I’m sure those that are used to walking to work will notice the slump in productivity as their kitchens, or God forbid, the bedroom was transitioned into a makeshift office overnight due to the pandemic.
Just like any other exercise, walking releases endorphins. These are feel-good hormones that reduce your brain’s sensitivity to stress. It’s the same mechanism that comes into play when you go for a run and feel good about life. For many people, just walking for 20 minutes a day is an achievement on its own and is a great way to boost confidence in themselves.
If you’re in a rut, walking for 20 minutes can increase your creative output, according to a study in Stanford. And the fascinating thing about this is that you don’t have to be outdoors to enjoy these benefits. Walking on a treadmill, too, was effective. Anything is better than sitting and looking blankly at your screen!
As those in the northern hemisphere get to see more sun, take advantage of it by walking or cycling to work instead of driving. Drop the tablets, because most of us will be getting enough sunlight by just walking outside 10-30 minutes a day a few times a week!
Vitamin D is important in maintaining strong bones because it helps to regulate calcium and phosphate in the body. This is even more important for those over 65, who are already at risk of having brittle bones and developing osteoporosis. Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce symptoms of depression (don’t we all feel happy seeing the sun after a gloomy week?).
A common misconception is that the sun somehow gives off vitamin D, which isn’t the case. The sun is a good source of vitamin D in which the UVB rays trigger chemical reactions in your skin to produce more vitamin D. However, do be careful because too much exposure to sun can lead to skin cancer! Always apply adequate amounts of sunblock when you’re soaking nature’s energy.
This may be obvious to some, but those that drive everywhere they go tend to underestimate how many calories they can burn while walking over time. The average person covers one mile in 20 minutes. That’s between 80-140 calories melting off their frame (the heavier you are, the more your burn). A two-way walk is between 160-280 calories. If you had a glass of coca-cola for lunch, you’d burnt it off on the walk home!
Understandably, it’s hard to get into the habit of walking when you have the convenience of a car at your disposal. One trick I have is to invest in a smartwatch that has a calorie and step count. By seeing your weekly progress, you’ll be motivated to keep it up!