Walking, our natural means of getting from one place to another, provides health and fitness benefits. If you’re looking for a way to relieve stress and improve your health, walking at least 30 minutes a day is one of easiest ways to accomplish these goals.
Walking is great because you can do it alone or with others, and you won’t need special equipment. You just need a good pair of walking shoes, and you might enjoy using a pedometer to track your activity level.
You’ve probably heard the recent guidelines about walking 10,000 steps per day. For most people, that comes out to about five miles. The average person’s stride is approximately 2.5 feet long, so it takes about 2,000 steps to walk one mile.)
A sedentary person may only average 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day. To reach a goal of 10,000 steps per day, adding a sustained walk or run of about 30 to 60 minutes should do the trick. You may need to build up gradually, adding a few more steps each day. A reasonable goal is to increase your steps by 500 per day until you can easily average 10,000 per day.
Walking for Stress Relief
There are several stress-reducing approaches to walking. You can make it a social activity, enjoying the company of family or friends. You can walk alone, enjoying the freedom to ponder your thoughts. Most people tend to walk in pairs, while some weight-loss programs encourage people to meet at specific times to walk in groups. Joining a group can increase your social circle, because as you walk, you talk—and studies have shown that increased social interaction may actually help you live longer.
If you feel stressed or have negative thoughts, concentrate on your walking technique and your breathing. When you combine walking with long, deep breaths, your mind tends to become more aware. You can then choose to invite only positive and uplifting thoughts into your consciousness, changing your entire perspective and letting peace of mind replace feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety.
Benefits of Regular Walking
- Stress reduction. Walking can trigger the release of endorphins, the brain chemicals that naturally relieve pain and stimulate relaxation. The higher your level of endorphins, the greater your sense of feeling calm. For stress reduction, a comfortable stroll can be as effective as a brisk walk. If you walk in a quiet area, you will feel your stress level decrease almost instantly. Enjoy the scenery around you—listen to the birds, smell the flowers, look at the landscape.
- Weight loss. Regular walking burns calories. Adding a daily walking routine to your overall health plan can help aid in weight loss.
- Heart health. Brisk walking improves your circulation, lowers your blood pressure, strengthens your heart, and reduces your chance of heart disease. For heart health, walk just quickly enough that a regular conversation is slightly challenging. Walking so you are slightly out of breath is acceptable. Walking at a pace where you are lightheaded, dizzy, or unable to breathe effectively is not safe.
- Mental health. Walking improves your overall sense of emotional well-being. A walking workout can help you sleep better, which may decrease your risk or symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Sleep. The body needs to be fatigued to get a good, restful night’s sleep. An effective walking routine can improve your sleep by helping you become a little more fatigued. Exercising less than 3 hours before sleep, however, may actually decrease your ability to fall asleep.
- Energy. Walking increases your energy level, which will make you more likely to continue your walking routine. You may also feel less need for caffeine or other “pick me ups” throughout the day.
- Healthy bones. A low-impact exercise, walking helps to improve your bone mass density, which helps protect your body as it ages and thus decreases the risk of osteoporosis.
Start a Walking Routine
Be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning any form of exercise program.
- Start gradually and walk only as far and as long as is comfortable.
- Work up to at least 30 minutes of brisk walking a day.
- Walk at your normal pace for about 5 minutes, then pick up your pace for about 15 minutes.
- Swing your arms when you walk and maintain good posture.
- Take long strides and be careful not to strain yourself.
- Take deep breaths while you walk.
- Slow down at the end of your walk.
Tips for Sticking with Your Walking Routine
Because of its convenience, this low-impact activity has one of the lowest dropout rates of any form of exercise. Use the following guidelines to increase your chances of sticking to your plan:
- Wear shoes that fit your feet comfortably.
- Plan to walk with a friend, a dog, or a walking group. It’s safer, more interesting, and more motivating.
- Drink about two cups of water before you start walking because you lose water through sweating and deep breathing, even in cool weather.
- Set goals for yourself. Keep track of your weight loss goals, step goals (if using a pedometer), and mileage goals.
- Find ways to make it fun! Walk in your favorite places, recruit your friends, and do whatever you can to create an enjoyable, pleasurable routine.