America has an obesity problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 41.9% of Americans were obese in 2020. The problem is not just that being overweight makes life less enjoyable; it also makes serious health problems much more likely. Heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and many other leading causes of death are closely linked to obesity, and the CDC estimates that it costs Americans $173 billion per year.
The great news is that there is a way to improve fitness without going through a bunch of complicated steps. If you’re intimidated by going to a gym or can’t afford a personal trainer to tell you what to do, you’re not alone. However, you already have everything you need to drastically enhance your health. The answer is to start walking.
Benefits of Walking
Simply taking a stroll through your neighborhood has enormous health benefits. The risks of all the diseases linked to obesity fall drastically for people who walk regularly, and anyone can do it. Many exercises put a lot of stress on your body. Lifting heavy weights and running can cause serious joint or muscle problems if your form is poor. Walking puts very little stress on your body which means that, except in rare circumstances, you can do this whatever your level of health may be.
One of the greatest benefits is that walking improves heart health. Heart rates are measured by zones of activity. Your resting heart rate range is zone 1 (50-60% of your max heart rate). High-intensity cardio exercise makes your heart beat quickly in zones 4-5 (85-100% of your max heart rate). Walking normally places you in zone 2, where your heart rate goes up but not so much that it becomes uncomfortable. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry on a conversation without losing your breath. When your heart rate is in zone 2 for as little as 15 minutes, you start burning considerably more calories than you normally would.
A big part of that is how walking engages your whole body. Your heart is beating; your legs are pumping; your arms are swinging; your core is flexing. This whole-body exercise is what gives walking such broad benefits. Exercising in a gym often focuses on training particular muscle groups at higher levels of intensity to build strength. This kind of training has many benefits, but you don’t need to commit to it in order to improve your health by leaps and bounds.
Outside of the physical advantages, walking consistently improves mental and emotional wellbeing. Regular exercise is an excellent way to reduce and manage stress. The chemicals your body releases when you exercise are called endorphins, and they have been shown to boost mood and help clear away the chemicals that cause stress, such as the hormone cortisol.
The list goes on and on. Your immune system grows stronger with regular exercise. Memory outcomes improve along with a reduction in “mental fog” and increased cognition. Overall energy levels grow. Your endurance improves for both physical and mental challenges, and your balance will get better. Even your bones will grow stronger!
Tips for Walking
The Department of Health recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Divide that by 7, and you only need to walk 20-30 minutes a day! The best thing to do is walk around outside. This way, you can plan a variety of routes to keep your interest up. Plus, being outside generally improves mental health.
It helps to push yourself if you can by increasing the pace of your walk and varying the landscape. Walk on level surfaces, inclines, and declines so that you engage more muscles. If you really want to work up a sweat, pump your arms while you’re moving and keep your head raised.
The most important thing, though, is to start somewhere and keep doing it. If you only walk from the couch to the fridge right now, walking around your couch in circles is a good first step. Don’t worry about being in the best shape of your life. Think about getting into better shape than you are right now. Ultimately, walking consistently at least five days a week is going to be best. Your body is healthier when it moves every day.
Improving your health is important, and walking is an easy way to start. Once you see how much you gain from just 30 minutes of walking each day, you may find yourself wanting to do more. That’s great! But the truth is that your health, weight, and life can get a lot better by doing the simple things well.