The health merits of walking are gaining ground, like the benefits of a brisk two-minute walk to offset a day on your bum in front of a computer. And people are realizing this, as evidenced by more and more “walkable” communities encouraging people to take mass transit and walk their everyday errands.
Evidence shows that increased walking pays off in preventing a laundry list of health problems. Even more, many people underestimate the number of calories they burn while walking in daily life, according to researchers. That’s great news—even if you think your mid-day stroll won’t make a difference, it is. Here are three reasons why.
Errand runs on foot boost heart health
When people walk to shops, services and community centers, they have less evidence of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, a Canadian study suggests. Walkable neighborhoods with sidewalks provide access to various locations, like the grocery store, within easy walking distance of home—and there’s less temptation to jump into the car and greater chance people will walk, says study author Maria Chiu, a scientist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto.
Think about where you can walk to from your home or office. Is the post office or conveneince store really too far to get to by foot? If not, get strolling. If you’re at the office, keep an extra pair of tennis shoes by your desk.
Riding public transit helps your health
Taking a bus or train to work instead of driving a car could also greatly reduce risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and being overweight, a recent Japanese study found. In fact, the study of nearly 6,000 Japanese adults showed you’ll be healthier than those who walk or cycle to work (they tend have shorter commutes). Lead study author Dr. Hisako Tsuji, director of the Moriguchi City Health Examination Center in Osaka, Japan, says those walks to and from the bus or train station are the key.
If you don’t take public transportation to work already, see if you can find a convenient option and try it out for a week. You might love the fact that you’re not only walking more, but are also spending less time in traffic with more time to close your eyes, listen to your favorite tunes or read a book.
Varying walking speed burns more calories
As you walk, be mindful of your walking pace—as varying your speed (e.g. from slow to fast to faster to slower) can burn up to 20 percent more calories. In fact, starting and stopping may account for up to eight percent of the energy used during normal daily walking, suggests a study from Ohio State University. "Walking at any speed costs some energy, but when you're changing the speed, you're pressing the gas pedal, so to speak," suggests study lead author Nidhi Seethapathi, a doctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at the university.
A lifetime of good health is created in increments, and every time you hoof it, you fortify the long-term rewards. Sure, the after-dinner walk and power-walk marathon are excellent activities in walking yourself thin. But daily walking, even the fragments we barely notice, will keep your overall health in good working order.