The Surprising Health Benefits Of Walking

Sure, walking improves heart health, boosts bone density and lifts energy levels, but new research shows it does much more.

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1. It bulks up your brain

Something as simple as going for a stroll can actually increase the size of your brain. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition shows that your creative output increases by an average of 60 per cent when you’re walking, while research from the University of Pittsburgh on men and women aged 55 to 80 found that taking a short walk (40 minutes a day, three times a week) increased the size of brain regions linked to planning and memory

2. It reverses the damage of sitting

Sitting has been linked to obesity, which in turn is linked to heart disease, cancer and early death. Not only is walking an effective calorie burner — for a 160-pound person, an hour of moderate walking burns 200 calories — it also lowers blood sugar, strengthens muscles and helps maintain a healthy weight. Last fall, researchers at Indiana University found that three five-minute walks a day can reverse the harm caused by three hours of sitting by increasing muscle activity and improving blood flow.

3. It combats depression

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A 2015 Australian study found that women in their 50s and 60s with depression who walked 200 minutes per week had more energy, socialized more and were less limited by their mood disorder. People with anxiety may also benefit from walking: Cortisol, a hormone that provokes a stress response, is lower in those who walk regularly than in those who are sedentary.

4. It reduces your risk of heart failure

The American College of Cardiology found 25 per cent reduced risk of heart failure in post-menopausal women. Based on studies of 89,000 women over a 10-year period, results released in March 2018 show that at least 40 minutes of fast-paced walking a few times per week is all you need to reap the benefits. Similarly, researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia, proved that brisk-paced walking is much more beneficial thank walking slowly. Participants who walked quickly had a 24 per cent reduction in all-cause mortality, and 21 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality.

How to get more out of your walk

Keep a diary

“I encourage people to keep a walking log so they can challenge themselves and set goals,” says Fyonna Vanderwerf, a personal trainer and recreation programmer in Bracebridge, Ont. Walking on an incline is a great way to boost your intensity. You can also add intervals by walking quickly for one minute, then slowly for another, or doing stairs or hills.

Go green
A 2013 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that a 25-minute walk through green spaces promotes a meditative brain state. Participants in natural environments reported less frustration than those walking on city streets. Researchers found you can ease brain fatigue simply by strolling through a leafy park, improving your ability to stay calm and focused.

Add poles
Good gear is the secret to an enjoyable walk. Start by investing in a comfortable walking shoe. Adding Nordic poles can help increase the intensity of the exercise — and burn more calories in the process, says Vanderwerf. Walking poles also encourage you to stand tall, move your arms, lift your chest and tighten your abdominals.

Watch: 3 Moves To Strengthen Your Glutes