The Power of Walking
by Tricia Neus, MPH, CHES®, CHW
Program Coordinator and Wellness Coach
Methodist Health System
Walking is one of the most underrated activities that you can do for your health and well-being. It takes little time, can fit into the busiest of schedules, requires very little preparation, and takes no special equipment or training. When we get up and put one foot in front of the other, it benefits our physical, mental, and emotional health in many ways. Exercising actually creates a change in our body's chemistry by causing our heart to pump more blood and oxygen to all our muscles and organs, including the brain. Studies show that a variety of health benefits occur both during and after walking.
What you get by walking
- Attention! Psychologists have learned that attention is a limited resource, but walking outdoors and in nature for a few minutes can improve your attention and mood. Exposure to nature helps us switch from voluntary attention, which draws on our reserves of focus and energy, to involuntary attention, which requires less focus and energy, allowing us to quickly recover from mental fatigue.
- Sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a single bout of moderate to vigorous activity (which includes walking) can improve sleep, thinking, and learning while reducing symptoms of anxiety.
- Better moods. Walking helps with emotional management. Life is stressful at times, and ongoing, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your health and well-being. Walking may not solve all your problems, but it can provide a positive boost in your mood. It helps clear your mind so you can think things through and find solutions to whatever may be challenging you.
- Self-esteem. Walking can improve your self-esteem. This occurs because there’s a release of chemicals called endorphins that interact with receptors in your brain and reduce your perception of pain, triggering a euphoric or positive feeling in the body.
- Brain power. Walking regularly helps your cognition and memory. It promotes new connections between brain cells by increasing the volume of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for declarative and spatial relationship memories. Moreover, it reduces the risk of progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- Disease defense. Walking reduces the risk of some chronic diseases. There’s a significant amount of research showing that incorporating walking into your day is key to reducing the risk of cardiac diseases and type 2 diabetes, managing weight, improving good cholesterol (HDL), lowering blood pressure, and reducing inflammation.
Let’s get started!
Whether you’re in a good mood and want to exercise or feeling stressed out, tired, or overwhelmed, a good walk can be just the thing you need. Need some ideas to start walking on a more regular basis?
- Start slowly. If you are just beginning to exercise, take it easy and listen to your body.
- Get outdoors. Take your walk outside and enjoy nature.
- Listen. Listening to something you enjoy, like music, an audiobook, or a podcast can help you walk longer and a little faster.
- Track yourself. Keep track of your progress by using a tracking device or an app on your phone to watch your steps and miles add up.
- Meditate. Learn how to use walking as a time for meditation. The benefits of meditating regularly are significant, and walking meditation provides added benefits, especially when done through nature.
- Walk with friends, either human or four-legged, and enjoy your walk even more.
If you’re looking for an organization that is committed to helping its employees care for themselves as well as others, take a look at Methodist Health System. Visit us at Jobs.MethodistHealthSystem.org.
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