If you hate to exercise, go for a walk: You don’t need special equipment. You won’t be intimidated or bullied by avid gym-goers. And you’ll get tons of amazing health benefits, like for starters, living longer.
Studies show that regular exercise can reduce your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, strengthen your bones, and actually reduce your risk of death. To get all these benefits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity, like brisk walking.
If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry: In its guidelines, the CDC says that breaking up your exercise into 10-minute chunks is fine. And just two of those chunks can do wonders for your weight: Just 22 total minutes per day of walking can get you to the weekly 150 minutes, and, depending your pace, you’ll burn up to 200 extra calories daily during that time. Spread that over a year, and you can lose 20 pounds.
The benefits go far beyond weight loss (though, of course, the weight loss benefits don’t hurt). Here are 10 other reasons to start going for a daily stroll.
IF YOU WALK FOR 10 MINUTES …
You’ll undo damage from hours of sitting.
You may have heard that “sitting is the new smoking,” with prolonged time on your tush increasing your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even death. Some of sitting’s badness has to do with circulation—it reduces bloodflow to your legs. But just 10 minutes on your feet can fix it: Scientists found that even after 6 hours of sitting, a 10-minute walk got blood flowing correctly in the legs again.
You’ll get a boost of creativity.
If you’re feeling stuck at work, don’t give the problem fresh eyes—give it fresh legs with a walk, and you’ll come up with more creative solutions. Scientists at Stanford found that people who walked, either on a treadmill or outside on a path, gave more creative responses on tests designed to measure creative thinking compared to those who tried to solve the problems while seated. So get up and get some new ideas!
You’ll help strengthen your bones.
Office workers have a higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency, which can result in soft, weak bones—that’s because D gives your body the ability use the calcium you eat in milk and other dairy products. A Vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with higher risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. And it’s simple to get more: Step outside during the day. When you’re in the sun, your body produces Vitamin D. So a 10-minute walk at lunch could save your from osteoporosis and cancer later in life.
IF YOU WALK FOR 20 MINUTES …
You’ll improve your mood.
In a study of 135 volunteers, those who did a combination of low-intensity walking with an easy meditation showed significant decreases in anxiety, while also decreasing negative feelings about themselves. And the meditation is so simple: While walking, the group was asked to count their foot strikes as “one, two, one, two,” visualizing the numbers in their mind. If their minds began to drift, they could just calmly come back to the counting. Using this meditation with the walking had significantly better anxiety-reducing results than walking without the counting.
You’ll protect your brain from memory loss.
In a nine-year study, those who walked six to nine miles per week—between 60 and 90 minutes—cut their risk of developing memory loss in half compared to those who walked less. The study, published in a 2010 issue of the journal Neurology, found that the walkers had more gray matter in their brains than those who were more sedentary.
IF YOU WALK FOR 30 MINUTES …
You’ll sleep better.
In a study from Northwestern University, insomnia sufferers who exercised for 30-40 minutes four times per week (including walking and treadmill workouts) increased the duration and quality of their sleep. The group who exercised, raising their heart rate up to 75 percent of their max heart rate during the workout, also reduced depression symptoms and feelings of daytime sleepiness.
You’ll help your heart.
A 2002 study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who walked for 30 minutes five or more times per week had a 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to people who didn’t walk. And scientists at the Universities of Tennessee and Colorado showed that walking regularly lowered stroke risk by 20 to 40 percent, and could lower blood pressure by as much as 11 points.
You’ll have less fat.
You may think that a “fat-burning workout” has to involve weights and grunting and high intensity, but low-intensity, steady-state work can make incredible changes to body composition. In a study from the journal Obesity, researchers found that people who were “moderately active” reduced their levels of visceral fat by 7.4 percent compared to inactive study participants. And that’s good: Visceral fat is the rock-hard fat that makes up a beer gut, and has been associated with higher risks of diabetes and death. And being “moderately active” is as simple as the 30 minutes, 5 days per week walking discussed above.
And if you vary your pace, you’ll burn even more.
Walking burns fat because of the muscles it uses: Strolling at a steady state recruits so-called “slow-twitch” muscle fibers, which use fat as fuel. But varying your pace even a little—the way you would if you were walking outside to and from locations—can increase your overall calorie burn significantly. Ohio State scientists found that doing faster bursts of walking—as little as 0.13 meters (about 5 inches) per second faster—helped participants burn up to 20 percent more calories than keeping a constant pace.
IF YOU WALK FOR 60 MINUTES …
You’ll reduce pain in your joints.
Researchers in Massachusetts found that arthritis sufferers who walked 6,000 steps per day had less impairment of their ability to perform tasks like getting out of a chair, taking the stairs, and other daily tasks. It will usually take about 60 minutes to walk that far—but it doesn’t have to be all at once. The results in this study were for walkers who did 6,000 total steps throughout the day, meaning 5 minutes here and three minutes there can be enough to help your joints feel less achy.