7 Little-Known Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Walking (Besides Building Your Bones)
One of the most remarkable truths about natural health is that the most beneficial actions are more often than not readily available and quite simple. It’s a great reminder that our bodies want to be healthy, and have evolved with numerous ways to stay in prime working condition.
The highly commercial world of Modern Medicine won’t tell you that, of course. And profit-hungry pharmaceutical corporations would never want to admit that you could get healthy without using their products. But as Savers know, good health can be achieved with natural, drug-free solutions.
Today we’ll dig into seven benefits of an easy health booster: walking, a weight-bearing activity that effectively builds bone and much more, as you’ll learn next.
1. Walking Helps You Handle Stress Better
Walking in any environment is good for your health (provided it’s a safe place to walk!), but it seems that some places have added benefits. Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) examined the impact of experiencing nature on stress levels in adults.
One of the studies found that taking a lunchtime walk through a space with greenery improved the quality of participants’ sleep the following night. When these subjects made a nature-filled stroll their regular habit, they showed significantly lower blood pressure and reported lower stress levels after just eight weeks.1
Of course we don’t all work or live right by a national park, but even if there’s a community garden, or an atrium with plants, the combination of taking a walk and soaking up some nature has proven health benefits.
Don’t forget that reducing stress levels and improving sleep are both important steps toward better bone quality.
2. Walking Is More Powerful Than You Think
This study proves that walking hasn’t received its due credit as a form of exercise. Most people think that walking is a less effective version of running, but that’s not true. The physical differences between the two modes of movement impact how quickly they achieve results, but they’re equally capable of achieving them. For some goals, walking is even better!
The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, compared large cohorts of runners and walkers over the course of six years to determine how each activity impacted the participants’ risk of cardiovascular heart disease and determining factors.
Running reduced the risk of heart disease by 4.5%, while walking reduced it by 9.3%. This is probably related to walking’s impact on heart disease risk factors. The chance of first-time high blood pressure was reduced more by walking than by running (4.2% compared to 7.2%) and first time high cholesterol risk saw a similar margin of difference.2
The key here is that both were compared at equivalent levels of energy expenditure. Running expends energy at about 2 ½ times the rate that walking does, so these extra benefits were seen when walkers spent more time walking than the runners spent running. Fortunately, long walks are easy, enjoyable and relaxing!
3. Walking Improves Your Concentration
Having trouble focusing on this article? Starting a regular habit of walking can help!
Everyone’s brain gets tired sometimes (yes, brains get tired too), and if your work or environment is taxing on your attention, this can have a significant impact on your ability to concentrate. Urban environments in particular are noted for their tendency to wear our the human mind. There’s even a name for the phenomenon: brain fatigue.
A study in Scotland has shown that walking in the right environment can create a calmer mental state that ameliorates the effects of brain fatigue. Researchers hooked up participants to mobile electroencephalography (EEG) scanners that monitored brain activity to record five different emotional states: short-term excitement, frustration, engagement, long-term excitement, and meditation.
They then sent these participants on walks in three different types of urban environments: a shopping district, a busy commercial street, and a green space or park. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that they experienced less excitement and frustration and more meditation in the green spaces.3
This mental recharge can restore your brain-state and improve your ability to return to any task or activity with renewed focus and deeper attention.3
4. Walking In Nature Heals Your Brain
While the above study provides evidence for what a green space does to your brain, other researchers have examined how this effect occurs.
It seems that the brain responds differently to the stimuli of nature than it does to an urban environment. Urban spaces boast concrete and glass buildings, cars, reams of advertising text flashing, and a host of other sights and sounds competing for your attention. This constant stimulation doesn’t provide much time for reflection or meditation.
Nature is certainly also full of sights and sounds: bird calls, blooming flowers, trees and vines and all manner of wildlife. But our brain handles these stimuli differently. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, authors of a book titled “The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective”, term it “soft fascination.” This form of engagement offers the mind space to rest and recover from the overload of daily life.4
5. Walking Boosts Your Creativity
Dr. Paul Snowden of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey has written about the relationship between walking and creativity. He posits that in addition to the clearly established physical and mental benefits of walking, the two combine to create a space where creativity can flourish.
Here’s an explanation in his own words:
“Walking exposes us to the constant flux of a changing environment providing us with an endless array of new and unique experiences, which combined with our past memories may, through serendipity alone, provoke new associations and give birth to new ideas… In a recent study, researchers compared walking a free route to walking a repetitive route and found that the free walking was more beneficial for performance on a creative thinking task.”5
We are capable of incredible things: art, science, invention. But you can’t come up with new ideas without providing yourself the space to process and imagine. Walking creates that space, occupying your body with a useful activity while letting your mind wander free.
6. Walking Extends Your Life
A study published in the journal PLOS One examined 42,000 middle aged adults to learn about the relationship between lifespan and walking. Participants, all of whom had a prior relationship to walking for exercise, were enrolled in a program that set target goals for weekly walking time.
The American Heart Association has recommended that adults walk 2 ½ hours every week. But not everyone in the study actually walked as much as they were encouraged to. The results were stark: those who didn’t walk enough were more likely to die early.
Participants who exceeded their walking goals were one-third less likely to die early than those who didn’t meet the walking recommendation. Those who simply met it were still 11% less likely to die early. Stroke, diabetes and heart disease were the conditions that walking most effectively helped to avoid, which likely accounts for much of the extended lifespans of walkers.6
It’s worth noting that the impact of walking is hard to distinguish from the impact of other activities that regularly walking enables us to do. The benefits of walking facilitate other healthful activities and exercise which in turn increase our strength, well-being and life.
7. Walking Ameliorates The Effects of Depression
For people suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD), or for anyone seeking a lift in mood, walking is a powerful tool for relief. A study at the University of Stirling found that a brisk walk was “an effective intervention for depression” and had a similar impact as other, more vigorous forms of exercise.7
Exercise in general has been well established to have a positive impact on mental health. A study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine performed a five year trial on 202 adults with major depressive disorder. They compared the results of exercise, both solo and supervised, with pharmaceutical treatment, and found that exercise was as effective as taking an antidepressant drug.8
This should be a familiar story to Savers. Big Pharma and most doctors will make it sound like the only possible way to prevent a fracture if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis is by filling a drug prescription. But in reality, there are alternative options that are more effective. Plus, these natural approaches don’t have negative side effects. In fact, they have the positive side effect of improving your overall health, making your life fuller and longer.
Walking is a great form of exercise for all of the reasons discussed above, and because it’s a weight bearing exercise it’s also recommended in the Save Our Bones Program to build bone density. If bone health is of particular concern for you, then walking is an important activity, but it needs reinforcement from more targeted exercises.
The Densercise™ Epidensity Training System is a simple and effective program to bone building exercises. Backed with scientific studies and with supporting materials like the Densercise™ Eating Guide, it has already tackled the daunting task of designing a multi-week workout routine so that you can start building stronger bones right away.
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Don’t forget that you have the control to make changes in your life. Take a moment right now and plan a time and location to take a walk today, so you can start taking steps toward a fuller, healthier life.
Till next time,
1“Enjoying the great outdoors – nature’s own stress buster.” Economic and Social Research Council. FRI, JUL 26, 2013. Web: http://news.cision.com/the-economic-and-social-research-council/r/enjoying-the-great-outdoors—nature-s-own-stress-buster,c9522265
2Paul T. Williams, Paul D. Thompson. “Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2013;33:1085-1091. April 10, 2013 Web: http://atvb.ahajournals.org/content/33/5/1085
3Aspinall P, Mavros P, Coyne R, Roe J. “The urban brain: analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG.” Br J Sports Med. 2015 Feb;49(4):272-6. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23467965
4Rachel Kaplan, Stephen Kaplan. “The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective” CUP Archive, Jul 28, 1989. Web: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_experience_of_nature.html?id=7l80AAAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y&hl=en
5Dr. Paul Snowden. “Creative Walking” South West Blog. National Trust. Web: http://www.ntsouthwest.co.uk/tag/dr-paul-sowden/
6Paul T. Williams. “Dose-Response Relationship of Physical Activity to Premature and Total All-Cause and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Walkers.” PLOS One. November 29, 2013 Web: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0078777
7Roma Robertson, et al. “Walking for depression or depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”Mental Health and Physical Activity. Volume 5, Issue 1, June 2012, Pages 66-75. Web: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755296612000099?v=s5%20
8Blumenthal JA, et al. “Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder.” Psychosom Med. 2007 Sep-Oct;69(7):587-96. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17846259