Mental & Physical Health Benefits of Walking

Wise Walker Badge, Step 1

Let’s go for a walk, a stroll, a hike, or a wander! Since we’ve all been cooped up at home, a walk has become a welcome respite. A walk is a chance to get some fresh air, see some nature and a few neighbors (from a distance), and feel sunshine on our faces. As you’ll learn below, the true benefits of a walk go much deeper. A walk just might be that “magic pill” that we are all seeking.

Join us as we become “wise walkers” and look into the many physical and mental health benefits of walking as we earn the Wise Walker Badge. Over the next couple weeks we will explore the science behind walking, take a class that teaches walking in good form, and incorporate mindful walking into our lives.

There has not been a better time to embrace this life changing activity that is accessible to nearly all, requires no fancy equipment, and is completely free to participate!

This post is part of our Walking Badge. You can learn more about the badge and how you can earn it in the gray box below.

Earn the Wise Walker Badge

If you are interested in earning the Wise Walker Badge yourself, you can see the Wise Walker Badge Guide, or “recipe” for the badge here. Each Badge Guide contains three steps to be completed in order to earn the badge. These steps can be done on your own, but we encourage you to grab a few friends and learn together!

Step 1 is always focused on research. Look up the topic online, watch videos to learn a skill, or visit your local library.  You can read about the resources and fascinating facts we found below.

The Benefits of Walking

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Physical Health Benefits

The conveniences of modern life have led many of us to be inactive for long stretches during the day. An abundance of screens (TV/laptop/phones), elevators, drive throughs, and remote controls were designed to make life easier but have dire consequences to our health. America Walks reports that less than 50 percent of Americans meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. This has led to a serious health crisis in the United States. Research shows that walking is by far the best way for many Americans to change this statistic.

The United States walks the least of any industrialized nation. The average Australian takes 9,695 steps per day (just a few short of the ideal 10,000), in Japan the average is 7,168; the average in Switzerland is 9,650; and the average American walks just 5,117 steps per day.

Fact Retriever

According to this Harvard publication, more daily walking is a simple cure for many of America’s biggest health problems. Walking not only helps people lose weight, it can help lower blood pressure, fight heart disease, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and add many healthy years to a person’s life.

Walking is man’s [sic] best medicine.

Hippocrates

Healthline reports additional benefits of walking including: reducing joint pain, increasing immunity, boosting energy, and improving muscle tone.

Walking burns calories to promote a health body weight. Calories burned while walking depend upon walking speed, distance covered, and type of terrain. Health benefits are seen even when just taking leisurely walks. Incorporate longer walks or multiple short walks to strengthen your heart, improve blood sugar, and boost immune function.

Mental Health Benefits

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Nothing clears my head like a walk. Now more than ever I have found that walks have become a welcome break during my day. With much more time on my hands I have begun taking several short walks spread throughout the day. As winter fades I have noticed the greening of the grass, the increased activity of the rabbits and birds and the tiny buds on the trees. These small but welcome signs of spring have had a calming effect on me during this time of great stress and unknown.

Strong Towns captures how walking can be an escape during challenging times.

  • Walking allows you to go at your own pace. You can soak up the details and appreciate the little things you would not notice in a car. On my walks lately I have noticed encouraging signs of spring, colorful paper art in people’s windows, and the bright green of freshly cut lawns. Small buds are appearing on flowering trees and so many more people are out with their families and pets than usual.
  • Walking allows you to see how things are progressing in your area. You can monitor who is out and about, what businesses are open, and notice when construction is happening. I’ve walked by many new (and old) businesses I wouldn’t have know about otherwise. These are easy to miss in a car.
  • Walking connects you to humanity and nature. A long walk gives you a chance to detach from your device, notice the sights and sounds around you, and take in how you are feeling.
  • Walking is free! This is important when finances are tight.
  • Walking is exercise. You can gain benefits of regularly moving your body and take a break from your device screens!
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Walking not only lifts your mood but also can improve more serious mental health issues. SAMHSA found that moderate physical activity like walking can decrease symptoms of schizophrenia. Healthline reports that walking can boost your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, increase self-esteem, and reduce feelings of social withdrawal. For the best results aim for 30 minutes per day of brisk walking!

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.

Henry David Thoreau

Walking can also help you get creative! Healthline found that walking can help you clear your head and think more creatively. Studies have shown that new ideas come easier when a person is walking versus sitting. Next time you are feeling stuck on a project take a walk and see if you come up with some new ideas!

An average city block is equivalent to 200 steps.

Fact Retriever

Walking History by Fact Retriever

  • Humans became bipedal three to six million years ago. 
  • Racewalking has been an official Olympic sport since 1904.
  • In 1970, 66% of children walked to school. Today, only 13% walk.
  • In 2000 Jean Beliveau began the longest walk around the world. He walked 46,600 miles around 64 countries. The trip took him 11 years.

Incorporate More Walking Time into Your Day

America Walks wants people to know that walking not only benefits individuals, but it also benefits entire communities. Areas that have good walkable sidewalks have less traffic fatalities for both pedestrians and vehicles. Walkability also decreases traffic congestions while increasing the amount of people visiting restaurants and shops. Walking is also much better for the environment.

Walking Videos and Podcasts

I loved this mini documentary that covers many aspects of Wise Walking! If you need more inspiration to get your body moving, this video is worth a watch. It reminds us that being fit is more important than our size.

Here are some great podcasts for walking motivation. Give them a listen while out on your next walk!

Join us for part 2 of the Wise Walker Badge as we continue our research by taking a class all about Good Form Walking!

We want to hear from you! Questions about badge topic? Message us on Instagram or Facebook or drop us a line here.

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