Walking outside has many benefits. Power walking, hiking, hot girl walks. Call it what you want, it's a form of fitness that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In this article, I am unpacking 7 benefits of walking outside.
What are the health benefits of walking?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), walking is the most popular form of aerobic exercise in the United States. And for good reason! It’s a total win-win since there are several physical and mental health benefits.
Plus, it doesn’t take a fancy gym membership to get started. It’s free to take a walk outside, and it doesn’t require any equipment. All you really need to get started walking outside is a good pair of shoes. Whether you are starting by going around the block or you’re the type who gets lost in a good playlist or podcast on a long walk, there are benefits, no matter how far or long.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the health benefits of walking include healthy weight maintenance, loss of body fat, improved cardiovascular fitness, strengthening of muscles and bones, and improved endurance and balance.
Still not convinced? Walking can also boost your self-esteem, improve your mood, decrease stress, reduce mental fatigue, and improve cognition and focus. A lot of these are all-too-familiar symptoms of burnout and integrating a walk into your daily routine can help you find some relief.
Plus, walking helps decrease blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, reduce your risk for heart disease, improve gut health, and decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Let's unpack these walking outside benefits, shall we?
1. It’s a natural mood booster since it helps with stress relief and increases energy.
Have you ever been really stressed or upset about something and then gone on a long walk and come home feeling refreshed? It’s because walking really is a mood booster!
This is for a few reasons.
- First of all, it increases blood flow to the brain and body. This helps you look and feel healthy. It also increases your mental focus and delivers oxygen and nutrients throughout your different body systems.
- It has a positive influence on your HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). The HPA axis controls your stress response. So that’s basically just a way of saying that walking outside brings down your stress levels and calms your nerves!
- Walking and other forms of slower, gentler exercise can decrease cortisol levels while other more intense forms of exercise like running or HIIT can increase cortisol levels for several days. Cortisol is the stress hormone that controls your metabolism and immune system. High cortisol levels over time can lead to belly fat, a round face, acne, a weakened immune system, and inflammation. I personally started switching out running for long walks in order to support my adrenals, the little glands that secrete cortisol. Even just a 20-minute walk can bring down your cortisol levels!
- Lastly, it increases endorphins. And if Elle Woods taught us anything, endorphins make us happy.
2. It helps clear our minds and reconnect with ourselves.
In his book, Walk with Your Wolf: Reconnect with your Intuition, Confidence, and Power, Jonathan Hoban points out that we have a primal need to walk. A long walk can create space to process our feelings. It awakens our intuition so we can figure out a positive solution to any problem we are facing.
As a bonus, walking outside and connecting with nature has many positive benefits. Walking outdoors is a way for us to take a break and reconnect with ourselves and the world around us. It’s a way to get away from our computer or phone screen at the start or end of our day. Or even in the small breaks throughout the day.
3. Improved Gut health.
Going on a walk in the morning, on a break, or in the evening gets your digestive system moving. This helps keep you regular and makes your gut microbes happy campers!
4. Decreases anxiety.
There is a correlation between movement and anxiety. Unused energy (aka calories) in the body may lead to anxiety. Walking is a great way to use up those anxious little calories. Plus, if you are switching from an intense form of exercise like running to walking, you are likely to have improved glucose control which helps with anxiety as well.
5. Helps to balance blood sugars.
Walking after a meal can lower your blood sugar. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and avoiding too much fluctuation in your levels throughout the day is super important to support your body. Plus, it helps you avoid things like irritability, moodiness, and distraction that come with being hangry.
Walking also helps to reduce sugar cravings both during a walk and after. Consider taking more walks if you are trying to cut back on sugar in your diet.
6. Improves Sleep.
A study in the Journal of Sleep Health that looked at the physical link between sleep and physical activity showed that overall, walking leads to improved sleep, specifically in females.
7. Weight loss and calorie burn
Is walking outside a good way to burn calories and lose fat and achieve a healthy weight?
The short answer is: absolutely!
Walking does definitely burn calories and can help you lose weight. But just like any form of exercise, there are several factors to consider when it comes to weight loss. These include your nutrition, rest, and stress levels.
Walking burns fewer calories than running, cycling, or HIIT workouts. However, you will burn calories in a more sustainable way while protecting your joints and hopefully enjoy yourself while doing it.
How to get started walking outside
- Get the right gear. You’ll need to make sure to have comfortable shoes most of all. A good playlist and a map of your route helps too.
- Make your plan. Will you be walking outside or indoors like on a treadmill? Walking outside in nature has the added mental health benefits I mentioned like connecting us to the world around us.
- That’s it! All you really need is a good pair of shoes and your body to get started. Don’t make it complicated.
Walking posture is important
Make sure you are walking with good posture. Some easy tips are to make sure you aren’t looking at the ground, don’t arch your back, slightly tighten your stomach muscles, and protect your feet by rolling from heel to toe.
But let’s be honest, it’s not rocket science! Humans have been walking for years, and you’ve probably been doing it since around age 1.
How much do you need to walk to see the benefits?
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends the following for most healthy adults:
Aerobic activity: get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of the two.
Strength training: do strength exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week
Walking outside falls under moderate aerobic activity. So to get your 150 minutes a week you could do about a 20 minute walk daily, 30 minute walk 5 days a week , or two hour long walks and one 30 minute walk throughout the week.
How to stay motivated
- Don’t let perfect get in the way of good! Any walk is great whether it’s 5 minutes or an hour.
- Track your steps if you’re the kind of person who is motivated by seeing how far you’ve gone.
- Listen to a great podcast or playlist.
- Take a walk with a friend or family member, or use it as a time to call and catch up with someone.
- Join a walking group to meet new people.
- Try different routes or parks and trails near you! Just make sure you are staying in safe, well-lit areas.
Is walking outside or running better?
It depends on what you’re looking for. If you were to take a 30-minute run you would burn more calories than on a 30-minute walk.
However, you may also see an increase in your appetite if you are running and you are likely to overestimate how many calories you burned. That said, you are likely to eat those calories back and then some. So if you are looking for weight loss, running isn’t necessarily the winner.
Plus, running is much harder on your joints and musculoskeletal system and more likely to cause injury. Walking may be a more sustainable and enjoyable option for people who don’t enjoy running or can’t run due to an injury.
I used to be a runner.
In that season, I could never imagine doing any other form of exercise. Running cleared my mind, gave me a great sweat, and kept my body lean. Over time, I started to become more open to walking outside to replace my runs most days. This is because walks are gentler on my body and overall leave me feeling less sore and ravenous. Plus, I was running for speed most of the time and because of that, I was pushing my body too hard.
While running worked for me in that season, I have learned to listen to my body and now I only go on a run if that’s what my body is feeling like, and I only run as far as my body tells me to. When it starts to hurt, I stop. And now when I run, I run for the joy of it. I run because I can and not because I am doing a training run for a race.
Of course, everyone has their own preference as to what kind of exercise they can sustain and prefer.
To me, the most important thing is that you are enjoying yourself. You should feel good and energized after an exercise, not beat down and so sore you can’t move the next day. And not so hungry you can’t seem to get full.
Fitness trackers and the golden 10,000 steps standard
Look, I used to live to close my Apple Watch rings. And when I would double my calorie goal for the day? Even better! Now I take way more rest days and I actually see *not* closing my rings a couple of days a week as a healthy way for me to give my body rest and focus on the other parts of my life.
With that said, I think that fitness trackers like the Apple Watch can be a great motivation, especially if you are the kind of person who has trouble getting or staying motivated to move your body! But please don’t let a device or wearable tell you what your body needs. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself to the point of pain.
I really encourage you to exercise for joy, stress relief, and to feel great and not just to burn calories, get toned, or get your hot girl summer bod. Because you are beautiful in the body you are in.
Can you believe that the “10,000 steps” standard started almost 60 years ago? Back in 1965, it was part of a marketing campaign to sell a Japanese step tracker called the Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter”.
According to a research study published in the Journal of American Medicine Association in 2021, among people in middle adulthood, participants who took approximately 7000 steps per day or more experienced lower mortality rates compared with participants taking fewer than 7000 steps per day.
In other words, you can get great health benefits even if you aren’t completing 10,000 steps per day!
Walking has many health benefits. It’s a win-win providing both physical and mental health benefits. Some of the physical benefits walking provides are improved cardiovascular health, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and it helps you burn calories to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It also supports your immune system and gut health and helps you get a better night’s sleep.
Some of the mental health benefits of walking include boosting your mood, decreasing stress levels, improving your mental focus, helping you gain clarity and reconnecting with your intuition, and decreasing anxiety and depression.
In order to get started walking you really just need a plan and a good pair of shoes! Walking can be a great alternative to running for aerobic exercise that better protects your joints. As far as how many steps in a day, research has shown that just 7,000 steps a day lowers mortality rates. Whether you are walking 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or an hour day, you will see benefits.
Do you enjoy walking? If so, what is your favorite benefit of walking outside? Comment below if you want to share with others!
References: Mayo Clinic, Very Well Fit, Harvard Health, JAMA Network, CDC, WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, psychologies.co, Sleep Health Journal, Walk With Your Wolf, Unlock your intuition, confidence, and power with walking therapy
Other posts you might enjoy:
Morning Routine Checklist [CLICK HERE]
7 Benefits of Breakfast [CLICK HERE]
Gratitude Journal Prompts, and some apps to make it easier [CLICK HERE]