The Benefits of Walking Run Deep
This simple activity gives you the power to improve yourself—and the world around you
Yes, walking is good for you. Seems obvious, right? It’s a healthy and popular way to get your body moving, clear your head before or after a busy day, connect with your neighbors, and appreciate your local streets and parks.
Walking is also an activity that can fulfill you in ways beyond the obvious. A regular walk can add an element of routine and structure to your day or your week, giving your mind time to both engage and relax. Replacing short trips in the car with walking whenever possible reduces traffic congestion, and contributes to improved air quality. Sharing a walk with a family member, friend, or neighbor doubles as valuable quality time that doesn’t suffer from the typical distractions of everyday life.
And these days in particular, walking for health (or walking for any reason, really) is a safe and easily socially-distanced activity that you can enjoy alone or #alonetogether.
Here are some quick and easy ways to optimize your walking behavior, no matter where you live or what your current fitness level. And, learn about the incredible benefits that the simple act of walking can bring to your community over time.
Suit up and get out walking
Pick some walking shoes that support your heels, arches, and toes. Unlike running—which activates your midfoot—when you walk, the rolling motion ends when you propel yourself forward with your toes at the end of your step. The best walking shoes designed for men and women provide lots of flex in the forefoot area.
Wear breathable fabrics, and bring layers to help you regulate your temperature and keep your muscles warm. If you’re going for a long walk and need to carry anything with you, throw on a backpack rather than a tote or shoulder bag and adjust the straps for a snug but comfortable fit. This will help keep your posture aligned and distribute weight evenly.
Toss in a full water bottle to stay hydrated… and you’re ready to go!
Work up your walking form
According to the Mayo Clinic, a purposeful fitness walk starts with attention to your stance and your gait. You should be straightening your spine, lifting your head to look forward (not down), and relaxing your neck and shoulders. You should swing your arms freely as you move, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. You should also be tightening your abs, and engaging your feet, landing each step on your heel and rolling to the toe in a smooth, rhythmic stride. This will allow you to leverage walking benefits to the fullest.
Mix up your walking routine to maximize the physical benefits
If you’re taking a regular walk using a regular route through your neighborhood streets, parks, or trails, make changes to keep yourself interested and motivated. A new or revised route will activate your brain to appreciate your new surroundings, and put it to work keeping your sense of place on point. Curate a new playlist for yourself regularly, or commit to trying a new podcast each week on a different topic.
If you’re walking for health and fitness, add inclines, hills, or stairs to your walkabout. According to a Harvard University study, we burn calories two to three times faster climbing stairs than walking briskly at a level. Another way to add intensity: Increase the length of your stride and/or your pace in intervals during your walk.
While running may provide a better workout in a shorter time, regular walking is much safer, causing far less injury, and the health benefits of walking are undeniable.
All of these simple adjustments will make for a more mentally and physically engaged experience, the ultimate result being that you will look forward to walking with genuine enthusiasm.
Add up the benefits of walking for yourself—and your community
Walking is great for your body, but it actually offers so positive value, beyond the physical.
Walking for Health , which plans and promotes more than 360 organized walks in the UK annually, highlights important walking benefits for mental health including improvements in self-esteem, stress level, and cognitive function, as well as reduced risk for anxiety and depression. Studies also show that walking contributes to memory retention and recall.
Another one of the great benefits of walking? Boosting your creativity. Stanford researchers found not only that walking significantly strengthens idea generation (whether on a treadmill or outdoors), but also that the opportunity for enhanced creativity extended beyond the walk into the time back directly afterwards. This suggests that fitting in multiple walks during your workday will help you work better, smarter, and more creatively.
Many walking groups are raising funds to preserve parks and greenways, so joining a group or buying a number in an organized walk (when they are back on) offer you double endorphins: resulting from exercising your body and exercising your community mindedness. The American Hiking Society lobbies for safe hiking with policy leaders and raises money to protect and preserve trails and their surrounding areas. Shorewalkers NYC organizes the Great Saunter, an annual 32-mile walk around Manhattan that the organization bills as an “epic urban hike” and that contributes to preserving the island’s waterfronts.
According to America Walks, a nonprofit organization that advocates for walking and creating services facilitating walkable communities across the U.S., car culture and a lack of physical activity in America over decades has contributed significantly to the country’s collective health problems. Walking is one of the easiest and safest ways for individuals to improve their own health, and in aggregate, improve the health and economies of their communities. Over time, the result of broad adoption of regular walking can affect traffic congestion, the environment, and the healthcare system in significantly positive ways.
As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” While we concede that truly great thoughts can result from many types of physical activity (not just walking), we can’t argue with the spirit of his idea. Walk on.