Now that the weather is warming in northern part of the United States, it’s much more common to see people walking and hiking through neighborhoods and on local trails. Walking might be one of the most convenient and healthiest forms of exercise.
In fact, when the number of steps people take per day is measured, those taking less than 5,000 steps are considered sedentary and at a higher risk for health consequences. Those who take 10,000 steps are considered active and have lower body weight, body fat and better health. While walking alone doesn't necessarily contribute to weight loss, there are benefits to be derived from taking daily walks.
Health Benefits of Walking
Walking and weight loss
Walking by itself is not a major contributor to weight loss. However, for those who struggle with their weight, it can be beneficial. Over a 15-year period, women who were among the heaviest at the beginning of the study and walked four hours per week gained less weight — an average of 17 pounds less — than those who didn’t walk during that timeframe.
Other studies on walking with pedometers have shown dramatic results. People with goals of 2000 steps per day, or about a mile of walking, lost just 2.8 pounds over four months time. In these studies, diet was not incorporated into the program. Minimal weight loss from exercise alone is consistent with other studies on exercise and weight loss.
In fact, an additional study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed those who did see weight loss following walking programs did so by modifying their diet, not just relying on exercise. For the strict purpose of weight loss, walking may not create enough of a calorie expenditure to make a significant difference. There are other benefits to walking which may indirectly affect weight management more than the calories burned from the activity.
Walking is a great first step toward a healthier lifestyle
Whether it’s outside or on a treadmill, walking is a low-intensity, convenient way to get started on an exercise program. Starting any exercise program, even if it is simply walking each day, is a conscious decision to improve one’s health. Committing to healthier activity is often motivation to make healthier dietary choices as well. Of course, the better one’s diet becomes, the faster weight can come off or the easier it is to keep the weight off. Some people assume they’re burning significant amounts of calories from their walking and may “treat” themselves with high-calorie unhealthy foods. In that case, the health benefits of walking can be easily offset by poor dietary choices.
Walking is a great stress reducer
Stress can lead to adrenal fatigue which disrupts metabolism, negatively affects sleep quality and quantity, which can result in unwanted weight gain and is associated with increased risk of degenerative diseases. Walking can play an important role in stress reduction. Walking alone can offer some needed quiet time for meditation and decompression. The solitude of a private walk can help you clear your head and find some peace for a short period during the day.
Walking is a fat-burning exercise
Low-intensity exercise burns a high percentage of fat as fuel. It doesn’t burn a significant amount of calories, but exercise isn’t just about burning calories. Exercise is a stimulus to help your body change. Low-intensity activities, like walking, train the body to use fat as a preferred energy source over carbohydrate. This can be especially important for those with insulin resistance, where blood-sugar management and fat burning are disrupted. In addition, because walking is a lower-intensity activity, it can be used to help balance out an exercise program which also includes high-intensity strength or cardiovascular training.
The best part about walking is it only requires a pair of decent shoes to get started. That being the case, don’t be misled into the latest gadget-like toning shoes. Our feet are designed to help us walk with minimal cover on them and under them. How much time should you commit to a walking regimen? As much as you can. Walking, is a low-intensity activity that your body can handle doing often.
Walking isn’t just for beginners, experienced exercisers and athletes can benefit from introducing walking into their program as well. Add music, an audio book or take your walk outside and enjoy the sounds of nature — whatever you need to get started, just start walking.
 Gordon-Larsen P, Hou N, Sidney S, et al. Fifteen-year longitudinal trends in walking patterns and their impact on weight change. AJCN. 2009;89(1):19-26
 Richardson CR, Lewton TL, Abraham JJ, et al. A Meta-Analysis of Pedometer-Based Walking Interventions and Weight Loss. Annals of Family Medicine. 2008;6:69-77