Walking isn’t just a great form of exercise, it’s got some seriously surprising health benefits, too. From shutting off obesity-inducing genes to lowering insulin response, to improving circulation, there are an abundance of reasons to get your feet moving on a regular basis.
Stress: It Affects Your Entire Being; Walking Helps Lower It
According to Mayo Clinic, stress leads to symptoms that can affect your:
- Mood. Being under both acute and chronic stress makes you more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and irritability.
- Body. Stress doesn’t always just cause impaired mood. Somatic symptoms can also be experienced, including: headache, muscle tension, and upset stomach.
- Behavior. Stress changes how you interact with yourself and others. When stressed, you may over/undereat, become socially withdrawn, or engage in substance abuse.
While there are many ways to try to manage stress, one of the simplest ways is to get outside and put one foot in front of the other.
Exercise and being outside are well-documented stress management techniques, in fact, just being outdoors is good for your mental health. 1 People who get regular physical activity, like walking, may have a 20-33% smaller chance of developing depression. 2
Being outdoors and going for walks triggers your body to make endorphins, which is the chemical that your brain registers as the “feel-good” chemical. According to the following video from Dr. Berg, walking is known to reduce cortisol levels (also known as the “stress hormone”), improve circulation, rid the mind of stress, and improve joint function. Plus, it’s not too physically demanding!
The Surprising Benefits of Walking on the Body
In addition to the mental health benefits of walking, Harvard Medical School reported on 4 surprising benefits of walking:
- Halves obesity-promoting genes. An astonishing 42.4% of the US population is obese per the CDC. 3 Obesity is no laughing matter: It increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer which are often preventable. 4 Thankfully, one of the surprising benefits of walking includes reducing your risk for obesity.
- Attenuates a sweet tooth. This is one of the most fascinating, surprising benefits of walking: Getting steps in reduces cravings! If you feel the need to reach for your favorite ice cream, reach for the walking shoes instead. It turns out, walking can decrease your desire for sugary treats.
- Eases joint pain. According to Harvard, “Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.” If you don’t use it, you lose it! Improvements in joint health is motivation enough to make walking a daily habit.
- Boosts immune function. Walking may be one of the best ways to protect yourself during cold and flu season. Those who walked at least 20 minutes a day for at least five days a week had 43% fewer sick days. 5
Enjoy the Surprising Benefits of Walking in Bellingham, WA
A lot of factors make Bellingham a desirable place to live, work, and play, including the ease of access to parks and trails. The city of Bellingham prioritizes trail systems and green spaces, giving residents and visitors lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors. Join Recreation Northwest for guided hikes in Bellingham’s trail systems, nature identification classes, and nature immersion experiences. You’ll discover new places to walk, reduce your stress levels and promote a new healthy habit for your mind and body.
As Director of Programs, Elizabeth Nelson brings her B.S. in Public Health, her extensive work with trauma survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, and her own experiences of the positive connection and health benefits of time spent in nature into the Parkscriptions program at Recreation Northwest. She is a certified Wilderness First Responder. She has a broad range of experience running her own business and working in nonprofit and government organizations.