Research shows walking has incredible health benefits, from improving heart health to productivity to creativity!
I don’t know about you, but a short stroll never fails to lift my spirits. There’s something so freeing about turning your head to the sky, picking a direction, and heading out.
But nowadays that quick stretch outside is hard to come by; quarantine forces us to *metaphorically* shutter our windows and shield our lungs from any infectious Coronavirus ne’er-do-wells. But with science not only suggesting but conclusively supporting the fact that keeping our bodies moving is vital to staying healthy, it’s important to get those steps in.
So is going out for a walk worth it?
The science says yes. Here’s why.
1. Walking Helps You Live Longer!
Did you know that your daily steps directly relate to your life expectancy?
The National Institutes of Health reports that the average American only takes about 4,000-5,000 steps per day (equal to a slow-paced 30-40min walk), with sedentary individuals reaching about 2,200 steps out of the recommended 10,000 steps/day.
The study found that participants who took 4,400 steps/day had a 41% lower risk of death than those who took 2,700 steps/day. Health benefits continued increasing through 7,500 steps/day, where the effects leveled off.
Other well-known health benefits of walking include:
- reduced cholesterol
- reduced blood pressure
- increased energy & stamina
- increased heart health
- improved muscle tone
Perhaps most importantly, walking is known to boost immunity and is a simple way to keep up your cardiovascular health in quarantine.
Interestingly, step intensity did not affect mortality levels – so if you’re worried about going too slow? Fuhgeddaboutit!
It’s better to get in your steps slowly but surely rather than sprint halfway to the finish line and give up!
2. Getting Outside Reduces Depression, Anxiety & Negative Moods!
Feeling blue? Getting your body moving in a daily practice decreases symptoms of anxiety, depression, overall stress levels, negative moods, low self-esteem, and social withdrawal. Research shows aerobic exercise like walking also leads to improvements in self-esteem and cognitive functioning.
In a study exploring the effect of walking in nature on Major Depressive Disorder, researchers prepared subjects by instructing them to think about a negative personal experience, before going on a 50-minute walk in either an urban or natural environment.
Participants who spent the 50 minutes walking through nature showed increases in their mood, compared to their urban-environment counterparts. A Bonus? They also experienced increases in their short-term memory span!
Another study reported on by Yale earlier this year found that regardless of steps, spending just 2 hours a week surrounded by nature promotes an increase in self-reported well being and health benefits.
Pro Tip: If available, prioritize a walk with some greenery around: a local park, other natural environments. The key is to escape the structure of the city to allow for freedom of unstructured expression.
3. Get the Creative Juices Flowing!
You know when you find yourself day-dreaming, snap out of it, and suddenly realize in horror you’ve wasted the past 30 minutes?
It might not be as much of a waste as you think…
A recent study exploring the effects of mind-wandering on productivity found that participants asked to solve a complex puzzle did so faster and with more ease when allowed to take a break and engage in “simple external tasks” than those told to only think about solving the problem.
Another study by Stanford used four experiments to explore the relationship between creativity when sitting vs. walking and inside vs. outside. They conclusively found that walking, especially outside, had a direct impact on creativity.
“Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity,” explained Stanford University researchers.
So while it’s essential to grab your mask on the way out, don’t let the quarantine stop you from catching some rays! Just plan in case of crowds, prepare with masks and sanitizer, and leave your worries at the door.