5 Reasons Walking for Exercise Is Underrated

a man walking through the woods

Walking is excellent exercise. | iStock.com

What’s the single best form of exercise? It’s an unfair question, really. Every expert has a different opinion, but what they all seem to agree on is that people just need to exercise. With so many workers staying immobile for hours on end each day, it’s more important than ever that people make it a priority to move.

Some athletes and fitness enthusiasts might scoff at walkers. It’s not really a workout, they might say, if you don’t end up gasping for breath and dripping with sweat. But consider for a moment what really makes a perfect form of exercise. It’s hard to say. Is it the most challenging workout? The one that helps you live longest? Or perhaps, the one that gets the most people to exercise?

In a 2014 episode of the Freakonomics podcast, three health experts weighed in on the best, which in this case they defined as the most efficient, form of exercise. As it turned out, this was the wrong question. It depends on your goals and abilities, and typically, a variety of exercises are better than just one. Where all three guests agreed was in the sentiment that the best exercise is “whichever one you’ll actually do.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers some good choices, but it’s hardly a comprehensive list. If you’re looking for a low-impact option that doesn’t require much investment, you shouldn’t discount taking regular walks. Here are five great advantages of walking for exercise.

1. The health benefits are greater than you think

runner, exercise

Walking at a moderate pace can burn some serious calories. | iStock.com

Walking at a moderate pace burns about 250 to 300 calories per hour, which is nothing to sneeze at. The key to walking for exercise is to keep it brisk. Power walking, or at least maintaining a pace that gets your heart rate up, will have the most benefits. A sedentary person’s risk of dying prematurely drops 20% after briskly walking for 30 minutes five times a week. Walking also helps manage depression and prevent disease.

2. Walkers can be social while they exercise

walking with friends

Going on a walk is a great way to socialize with friends. | iStock.com

One of the best ways to motivate yourself to stick to a workout plan is to involve a friend. Walking is one of the best exercise activities to do with a buddy because it’s not so strenuous that it will interfere with socializing. Walking with a buddy or a group can help take your mind off the effort and make the time go by quicker. Walkers can also easily multitask, perhaps listening to music or a podcast, without throwing off their rhythm.

3. A walk will get you outside

a man walking through the woods

Enjoying a walk and the outdoors. | National Park Service

Of the many health benefits of spending time outdoors, one the most notable is improved mental health. It’s easy to get outside to walk in almost any setting, but walks in parks or more natural environments are best. Walking in nature significantly reduces rumination and prevents depression, according to research out of Stanford. Creative thinking is also improved by walking, which could make a huge difference in terms of overall happiness and self-esteem.

4. Walking comes close to running in terms of benefits

walking

Walking is easier on your body than running. | iStock.com

Running is a more strenuous form of exercise, but despite its relative difficulty, the health benefits don’t radically increase from walking to running. Walking increases your lifespan, as does running, but more speed doesn’t always mean a longer life. Running is also harder on the joints. People who have certain limitations, or those who suffer from ailments like shin splints or runner’s knee, may see greater benefits from walking. And the low-impact nature of walking doesn’t mean you won’t break a sweat. Try power walking up a steep hill or going for a 90-minute walk at a speedy pace.

5. Walking is easy and low maintenance

a man walking

Walking is low maintenance. | iStock.com

Perhaps the best thing about walking for exercise is that it’s so easy to just get up and do it. You don’t need any fancy equipment or clothes. Good sneakers and comfortable clothing will do. There isn’t really a bad time to go for a walk either; a leisurely walk right after a meal will help with digestion, for example. Walking is a great supplement to less frequent, harder workouts, too. This way, if you run out of time to hit the gym or go to your training session, you’ll still spend time moving your body every day. Because it’s so moderate and approachable, walking is a great gateway exercise. People looking to lose weight or transform their sedentary lifestyle won’t be able to lean on excuses when it comes to taking a walk. All it takes is 20 or 30 minutes and a pair of sneakers.