It might seem silly to label one of our most basic physical functions as underrated, but walking arguably doesn’t get its due credit. An oft inconspicuous force that shuttles us from A to B, for the most part undemanding of our attention as a shy taxi driver, walking is neither ambitious nor glamourous yet its benefits – for body, mind, and creativity – can be very apparent. Here are ten to get you ambling across the land like a country estate owner with more time and ruminative thoughts than he knows what to do with.
Fortunately, there’s no need to submit your body to a vigorous workout routine in order to ward off illness. A moderate regime, consisting of mere 20-30 minute walk daily, has been found to reap similar health benefits to hitting the gym several times a week. This includes a reduced likelihood of respiratory illness and increased protection during the cold and flu season. Aerobic exercise, which includes brisk walking, brings immune cells into circulation and can have lasting benefits when committed to regularly.
It’s not difficult to see how traversing through a gorgeous landscape might be inspiring, but what is a little more surprising is how the act of walking in itself can help bolster creative thinking. A Stanford study compared the creative output of participants while they were walking and sitting down, finding the former to encourage novel ideas irrespective of their environment (some went around the campus while others were put on a treadmill). This confirms that there is merit to carrying out walking meetings, as some CEOs have notably advocated, since the movement in itself can aid problem solving and thinking outside of the box. Next time your stuck in a rut, get moving!
Walking may help us stay emotionally stable and resilient, according to a recent findings. Another university-conducted study saw a group of students presented with a boring stimulus, some while on a treadmill and others while sitting down. Those who were walking were found to retain a more positive mood. The researchers also found that walking lessened the impact of a negatively anticipated or difficult task, and could create the right mindsight for an efficient workout. Of course tracking your steps and other means of gauging your daily progress have an obvious psychological benefit too – as does the sense of being fit and healthy.
A new study shows that taking a mere 15 minute walk can drastically reduce the desire for sugary treats. Consumption of chocolate by participants who had walked before engaging in a task, compared to those who had not, was half. Researchers also concluded that the stress level of the activity had little bearing on the quantity of chocolate consumed – suggesting that unhealthy snacks are not a necessary energy booster in trying circumstances. However, if you identify as a stress-eater it’s worth considering a healthy approach to snacking which can tide you over. Walking, otherwise, is a great way to leave you feeling energised and refreshed.
As a low-impact exercise, walking is one of the easiest ways to retain healthy muscles and blood-flow, particularly in the legs. It is especially useful to those with high blood pressure or predisposed to heart conditions, diabetes or vascular diseases. Whilst improving blood circulation is not obvious as a health priority, it is key in preventing afflictions in the long run. It can also be improved by lowering blood pressure, blood glucose levels and cholesterol, all benefits of walking as part of a healthy exercise regime.
Discussion about the role walking in nature has in inspiring us to conserve and connect with the environment has recently been rife, but a lesser-known benefit is its ability to bond people. Those who chose to bring a partner or friend on a jaunt with them might find themselves closer by the end of it, and depending where you are able to roam, there is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the local history and community too. Dog owners can likely already attest to the socialisation that arises from walking encounters, but for those ramblers not so endeared to these creatures (or their owners) they may be able to seek out a local walking group.
- It is beneficial to cognitive function in the long run
By increasing blood-flow to the brain, walking has been shown to improve cognitive function and memory. In a study measuring the responsiveness of white matter in the brain to exercise, Dr Agnieszka Burzynska and her team discovered that out of all the exercise groups they tested – including dancing and stretching – walking increased its volume the most and improved memory performance. White matter, though often overlooked in research compared to grey matter, is the vital tissue that coordinates communication between the different regions of the brain, important to learning and development.
- It can aid sleep
While exercise is generally believed to improve the quality and ease of sleep, the good news is that this doesn’t need to be strenuous and once again even a short daily walk will suffice. However, sleep quality among women was found to scale alongside their number of steps walked, according to a study, with those who had walked 10,000 steps a day rating their quality of sleep two points higher than those who had walked 5,000. The studies seemed to suggest that a better quality of sleep was more likely after the body had been pushed beyond its comfortable limits. This could be because sleep puts the body in a restorative state, though other theories – such as the impact of sunlight on circadian rhythms and the social benefits associated with walking – might explain this phenomenon.
Walking is not necessarily the most effective exercise in producing radical physical and mental health improvements, but is, for the most part, very easy and accessible, making it particularly recommendable for those with a sedentary lifestyle. High blood pressure and stress are two by-products of a demanding, desk-bound job that can be alleviated by a brisk stroll. It lowers the former by strengthening the heart and making it more efficient at pumping blood, as well as improving the condition of the blood vessels. Meanwhile, it reduces stress by helping us clear our minds and fortifying our bodies. It’s important to note that these sort of benefits arise primarily from exercise that pushes the heart and lungs – so you should aim for an accelerated walk that gets you panting.
With inactivity being a significant contributor to illness and premature mortality – twice as much, in fact, as obesity – carrying out even a small amount of daily exercise can lead to a longer, healthier life. Though any duration of exercise is better than nothing, participants in a long-term study conducted by the American Cancer Society were found to have a decreased chance of mortality when engaging in around two hours of moderate-intensity walking a week, whilst doubling the recommended amount dropped it by 20%. So walk like your life depends on it!