What if I told you that you could lower your blood pressure, reduce stress, ward off cancer, and enjoy a wide variety of other health benefits without stepping outside your comfort zone?
No, this isn't an advertisement for some crazy workout routine or fad diet.
You can drastically improve both your physical health and mental wellbeing simply by doing more of something you already do: walking.
I know, it sounds too good to be true but hear me out.
I recently started walking a few times each week for just 45 minutes per walk and it's really helped more than I could have imagined. Here's how.
Between 79% and 85% of North Americans Aren't Getting Enough Exercise
Statistically, if you're reading this from behind a phone or computer in the United States or Canada, you don't enough exercise.
Are you sitting while reading this?
Take a look at these shocking figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Less than 22% of adult Americans get their recommended amount of aerobic and muscle strengthening activity each day. Yikes!
Let's not pat ourselves on the back, Canada. Our numbers are even worse than the Americans: Only 15% of you are getting enough exercise.
Still not convinced of the problem? The Lancet estimates that if everyone suddenly became physically active, global life expectancy would rise by almost 1 year. By walking, you can literally change the world.
Let's say you do exercise every day – just like me.
I thought that because I got a good workout every morning, it didn't matter that I sat behind a computer or in my car the rest of the day.
Then I got a step tracker and realized I was gravely mistaken. I definitely had a wakeup call: I needed more physical activity somehow.
The Dangers of Inactivity
I don't want to frighten you or scare you into exercise. I know that's not the best way (or even an ethical way) to motivate someone into improving themselves.
But you should understand the consequences of inactivity. Many people think they know, but they may not realize just how much even mild physical activity can improve their health and wellbeing.
According to the same Lancet study, inactivity is behind 5.3 million deaths globally – that's more than smoking (five million). In fact, it's the fourth most common cause of death worldwide. Here's what happens when you don't move enough:
Your risk for developing cancer (especially colon cancer and breast cancer) goes up
Your likelihood of developing diabetes goes up
Your risk for developing heart disease goes up
Your blood sugar and blood pressure levels rise to unhealthy levels
Your mental health may suffer as symptoms of depression and anxiety may worsen
What Stops People from Exercising?
I know as well as anyone else that it's much easier to keep habits rather than break them. Making changes to your lifestyle and daily routine isn't easy for anyone.
But not everyone avoids physical activity for the same reasons. Some of the most common reasons include one or any combination of the following:
They cannot afford a gym membership or workout equipment.
They don't see results fast enough and quit.
They just don't like it.
They don't know where to start.
They don't have time.
They don't want to feel sore after a workout.
They don't like making commitments.
They don't want to leave their comfort zone.
Walking Can Drastically Improve Your Health – Yes, Just Walking
Some reasons listed above you simply cannot avoid or you'll need to struggle with yourself to overcome. But you can say goodbye to most of these reasons by simply getting up and going for a walk.
If you're like me, you have a hard time breaking your black and white perspective of the world. "I don't have time or energy to complete an intense heart-pounding workout, so why bother doing anything at all?"
The truth is, literally any physical activity benefits your body more than sitting on the couch or behind the computer.
In fact, you burn at least five and up to seven times more calories while walking rather than sitting.
How Walking Changes Your Body for the Better
Walking is a great activity for improving your health – even if you already consider yourself fairly active. Here's how walking changes your body based on how long you walk.
Up to 5 minutes: Your heart rate increases to between 70 and 100 beats per minute (bpm) and your brain starts producing feel-good epinephrine to get you hyped for the walk.
6 to 10 minutes: Even at the same walking pace, your heart rate continues climbing to between 100 and 140 bpm. Your blood pressure rises and blood vessels expand. This is a good thing because it delivers oxygen to your muscles and blood vessels. At this point, you're burning about six calories per minute.
11 to 20 minutes: Your body gets warmer as your temperature goes up – you might even break a sweat. Chemicals like epinephrine and glucagon keep flowing and your calorie per minute increases to 7.
21 to 45 minutes: You passed the 20-minute mark so your body starts to relax just a bit. You'll notice tension drop significantly from the flood of feel-good hormones. (This is that "runner's high" you hear about.) At this point, you'll also reap the benefits of burning fat and reducing insulin.
46 to 60 minutes: Expect to feel tired after the 45-minute mark (I know I do). As you start to slow down, your body will begin transitioning itself back into resting mode: your temperature and heart rate will decrease.
Bonus: your body continues burning calories at an increased rate for one hour after your walk.
My walks usually last 45 minutes and I make them a part of my schedule three to five times each week. I love how easy it is to improve my health by simply doing more of something I already do.
Lesser Known Benefits of Walking
It may not seem like much but making walking a part of your routine can have incredible long-term consequences.
Just 25 minutes of brisk walking each day can add seven years to your life.
Exercise like walking can function as an antidepressant.
It can ward off dementia.
It can reduce your PMS symptoms.
Regular walking can lower your risk for a broad range of physical conditions including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, thyroid conditions, hormonal imbalances, varicose veins, and constipation.
It's as effective as weight lifting for burning fat.
Walking can improve your cognitive ability.
Daily walks give you a chance to bond with your partner or loved ones.
It could push you to take up other laid-back physical activities like swimming or biking.
Becoming more physically active will have a positive impact on everyone around you – especially your family.
How to Incorporate Walking into Your Daily Routine
Even by the time you've gotten this far, you still may not be convinced you can and will actually fit walking into your routine. I know, we're all adverse to change.
These tips can help you make the commitment and stick to it.
Make a few special playlists of your favorite songs and ONLY listen to them on your walks.
Find someone to go with you.
Your pet will love you for it.
Set an alarm every day or every other day at a specific time.
Bring the whole family.
Force it into your routine: always go for a walk before dinner, after lunch, or two hours before bed.
Download some podcasts and only listen to them on your walks – you'll look forward to walking each day.
How to Reap the Most Benefits from Your Walks
If you're like me, you might quickly write-off walking as a too-easy and totally not worthwhile activity. I overlooked it for so long before wearing a step tracker.
I need to feel challenged and I didn't think walking could provide that challenge. "Isn't walking for grandmas and soccer moms?"
If this sounds like you and you need a challenge, give these pointers below some consideration. Even regular fitness enthusiasts will probably break a sweat.
Strap on some wrist or ankle weights: they're pretty cheap and super versatile for making any activity a little more difficult.
Get a step tracker – you'll instantly feel compelled to move more.
Challenge your partner or a friend.
Set a goal and try to outdo yourself each time.
Download a fitness tracker app like Nike to monitor your time and pace. You'll say to yourself, "pssh I can do better than that" each time.
Plan your walks around steep hills or inclines – every neighborhood has a few.
Grab some new workout clothes you absolutely love and only wear them during and after your walks. Plus, having dedicated workout clothes will probably encourage you to use them more often.
I hope this post inspires you to take charge of your health by increasing your activity. Even something as mild as walking can have a huge impact on your long-term health.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm late for my Monday night walk.