In a world that is obsessed with fitness and going to the gym, walking is a simple and underrated exercise. It doesn’t cost you money and offers plenty of health benefits for people, both mentally and physically. With the rising levels of obesity and heart disease due to our overconsumption of calories and lack of exercise, a simple walking routine is all that’s needed to head you in the right direction for a healthier lifestyle.
150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of rigorous aerobic activity per week are recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services to lead a healthy lifestyle.
There are several reasons why walking in the morning can be incredibly beneficial.
People underestimate how many calories walking can burn
The reason I say walking is a very underrated exercise is because there are vigorous HIIT workouts that are very stressful, but they still burn fewer calories than walking! Our society has been misled to believe that the more rigorous an exercise is, the more calories it burns. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The number of calories burnt mostly depend on the type of muscles used. If you engage larger muscles, you will burn more calories. Walking engages the largest muscle group in the body, the leg muscles, so it burns a considerable number of calories. For a person weighing 180 pounds, walking one mile can burn off 100 calories. Walking 10,000 steps a day will burn about 300 calories.
You can track the number of steps taken and the number of calories burnt using various apps that can be downloaded on to your phone or wearables like the Fitbit.
Walking is a great way to lose weight
For people who are overweight or haven’t exercised for a long time, it can be dangerous to try out rigorous exercise programs that claim to make you lose a lot of weight in a few weeks’ time. If you don’t have well-developed muscles already in the area, exercises like squat jumps or running can put a lot of pressure on joints.
This is not the case with walking, the stress on joints is relatively minimal compared to other exercises, so it is a great way to lose body fat without damaging your joints. In fact, walking for long periods of time has shown links to a reduced risk of arthritis and osteoporosis. Walking can gradually improve the strength of the joints and improve bone density as well.
Unlike other exercise programs, such as those incorporating HIIT, walking is appropriate for all fitness levels.
Walking in the morning can get you some well-needed Vitamin D
If you live in a sunny climate, having a long walk in the morning can expose you to sunlight long enough for you to get your daily dose of Vitamin D. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that enhances the absorption of calcium in the gut. Hence, vitamin D is a crucial component in maintaining bone health. This is especially beneficial for vegetarians or vegans because Vitamin D sources are usually found in animal products like oily fish, eggs or dairy products.
Lower stress and risk of depression
If you’ve ever gone for a nice, walk in the morning breathing in the fresh air, you don’t need to be told how relaxing it can be. Walking can reduce stress levels which in turn can help alleviate a host of other issues, because stress is a huge contributor to numerous health issues. According to Scientific American, a weekly total of 200 minutes of walking can significantly boost your mood. Countless studies have shown that walking has a positive effect on mental health, especially for individuals who are severely depressed.
The benefits to mental health come from the endorphins released during walking. It relaxes you and you find the activity enjoyable, something depressed people have trouble doing. Rigorous workout routines such as heavy HIIT exercises which can release stress hormones like cortisol that can make your body cling on to body fat. Walking is relaxing so it doesn’t release stress hormones, which can make your weight loss journey smoother.
Walking really is the best form of exercise for people starting out their fitness journey or for people who are incredibly stressed from modern working lifestyles.
Improved Circulation and heart function
Because walking engages a lot of muscles, especially your leg muscles, it can significantly improve blood flow around the body. One of the biggest issues with our modern lifestyles is that our largely sedentary lifestyles where we’re seated at one spot for long hours has a detrimental effect on our circulation. Keeping your body, especially the legs sedentary for prolonged periods can slow down circulation which can pave the way for things like blood clots to develop.
Improved circulation, in turn, will strengthen the muscles in the cardiac system, as it now has to work harder to pump blood more quickly around the body during brisk walking. An obviously an increased heart strength will lead to better heart health with a lower risk of heart disease.
Improved breathing and lung function
Similar to its effect in the cardiovascular system, walking can also improve breathing and help your lungs function more effectively. Brisk walking is an aerobic exercise, which means that your muscles need oxygen at a quicker rate now. This forces your respiratory system to work harder and more efficiently at delivering oxygen to the blood and muscles, as well as getting rid of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide.
An improved respiratory system can obviously benefit overall health as well. Now that your body is delivering more oxygen to your blood, your muscles and brain, it will significantly boost your physical performance and cognitive health.
Improves cognitive function in the elderly
Carrying on from the last point about how walking can improve cognitive function, this is true for both young people (they will have improved cognitive function when they’re older) and the elderly. Studies done on women over the age of 60 who walk regularly have shown that their cognitive functions don’t degrade as quickly as those who don’t walk. They have better memory and focus.