two people walking on concrete

Walking is one of the most simple, accessible forms of exercise available and offers numerous health benefits. 

From enhancing mood and reducing stress to improving cardiovascular health and managing diabetes, walking is a versatile, low-impact exercise that can be integrated into daily routines and significantly contributes to a balanced lifestyle. 

Karen Studer, MD, associate professor and chair of preventive medicine, shares the benefits of walking and helpful steps to seamlessly integrate more steps into your daily activity.  

Alleviates stress and supports mental well-being 

Walking helps reduce stress by decreasing cortisol levels, also known as “the stress hormone.” Cortisol levels rise in response to stress, which increases inflammation in the body and is a significant cause of food cravings. Consistent walking can lower the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream over time and reduce stress. 

Walking, particularly brisk walking, also stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters, Studer says.  

Studer adds that walking with friends fosters social connections, which are crucial for mental well-being. “If you’re walking with a friend or in a group, you’re cultivating relationships and becoming closer to friends or loved ones,” Studer says.  

Improves cardiovascular health 

Walking is an excellent way to boost heart health, providing numerous cardiovascular benefits. “If you do a brisk walk and get yourself to a moderate activity level of exercise, that will help your cardiovascular health,” Studer says.  

Even if you can’t walk outside, Studer acknowledges the benefits of treadmills and walking pads. “You're still making an impact. You're still burning calories. You're still getting some benefit,” she said. “We are made to move, not to be sedentary.” 

Whether on a treadmill or walking outside, Studer recommends walking at a brisk pace for optimal health benefits. To know if you’re walking fast enough for cardiovascular benefits, Studer suggests the “sing/talk test,” which is walking at a speed fast enough that you can still talk but not sing.  

Helps control blood sugar 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 11.6% of the U.S. population has diabetes and 38% of adults 18 and over are prediabetic.  

When too much sugar floats around the bloodstream, individuals are more susceptible to diabetes, kidney disease, strokes, and heart attacks. Walking at a brisk pace helps send sugar into the cells where they belong. “When we exercise, our cells open up to take in sugar for energy,” which is why walking helps control blood sugar, Studer says.  

To control your blood sugar, Studer suggests the best time to walk is after a meal. “If you walk right after you eat, it's a quick and easy way to make sure your blood sugar doesn't go too high.”  

Improves sleep 

One less obvious benefit of walking is the impact it has on a good night's sleep. “A lot of people don't realize that the body needs to be tired out during the day to sleep well at night” Studer says. “We get better sleep when we move throughout the day.” 

If you're not tiring out your body during the day, walking may be the key to improving sleep quality. 

How to get started with walking 

If you have a sedentary lifestyle and want to incorporate more walking into daily activity, Studer suggests the following tips: 

  • Park in parking spots further away from the store’s entrance  

  • Take an extra lap or more around the store once you are done shopping 

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator 

  • Start short walks and build up over time 

  • Walk inside the mall on days it’s too hot or cold outside  

  • If walking poses physical difficulties, talk to a doctor about your options. 

One of the best, most natural things that we can do for our bodies is to move. To learn more about preventive measures for your health, explore primary care at Loma Linda University Health or call 909-558-2870.