Walk! You May Save Your Life

Brisk walking can improve physical and psychological well-being. Six reasons why you should consider regular walking.

We are not getting enough physical activity. With apologies to those of us who exercise regularly, there is some truth in the statement. Researchers from the US Cleveland Clinic discovered that many of us are not getting the recommended amount of physical exercise — 2.5 hours per week. Here are some of the study findings:

  • Roughly half use exercise to lose or maintain weight
  • Only 32 percent use exercise for a healthy heart

Some of the reasons for not exercising, cited by the study participants, include:

  1. Work obligations (41 percent)
  2. Being too tired (37 percent)
  3. Responsibilities with family and friends (28 percent)

Men appeared considerably less likely to let things interfere with their exercise routine, with over one-quarter of them saying nothing stops them from exercising.

How do you approach fitness? Do you walk or run, or do you prefer gardening? Perhaps some hardcore weightlifting is your thing. Fitness is ultimately a very personal journey. This blog is just for you if you don’t want too intense hardcore weightlifting or aerobic activity.

Today, I want to turn to an often underutilized activity for wellness. Let’s look at how brisk walking can improve your psychological well-being, improve balance and coordination, help with cardiovascular health, and more. We’ll explore how brisk walking for 30 minutes to one hour can yield impressive results.

1. Burn calories

Did you know that you may burn about 150 calories if you walk 3.5 miles per hour for thirty minutes? I offer this as a gross estimate, given the calories you burn are likely affected by factors such as genetics, your body weight, and the terrain on which you walk. If you want to increase your intensity, consider stepping upstairs.

I will admit that running would help you to burn a lot more in less time. Still, walking is lower intensity. For beginners, I suggest strolling over several weeks before increasing the intensity and duration of the activity.

How much walking?

Many health experts suggest brisk walking as a calorie-burning aerobic exercise for those who are after weight loss. Warm-up for roughly five minutes at a leisurely walking pace. Then, try to get in a brisk walk of 30 to 90 minutes on most days, trying for a minimum of 150 minutes per week. Keep the intervals to at least ten minutes, and try not to skip more than one day at a time. Get yourself into the moderate-intensity exercise zone, or approximately sixty to seventy percent of your maximum heart rate.

Calculate your maximum heart rate: Take 220 and subtract your age. For example, for a 50-year-old, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate is 220 –50 = 170 beats per minute. Your heart rate provides an objective measure of your exercise intensity. How you feel (perceived exertion) gives us a subjective standard.

You may be in the moderate exercise zone if your breathing is faster, but you are not breathless. You can have a conversation, but not easily sing. Finally, you may develop a light sweat after approximately 10 minutes of activity.

Don’t push yourself too much; if you are in pain, short of breath, or cannot achieve your planned duration, your exercise intensity is likely higher than your fitness level permits. Ratchet the activity back, and build up over time. You should check-in with a valued health professional as indicated.

If you briskly walk for 30 minutes, you may cover 1.5 to 2 miles (2.5 to 3.3 kilometers). Such a distance is the equivalent of 2,000 to 4,500 steps. Again, be consistent to build good habits and to optimize calorie burning.

2. Improve heart health

Walking is right for your health. More specifically, did you know that it can:

  • improve your cholesterol levels
  • lower your blood pressure
  • help you to maintain an optimal weight
  • reduce your chances of getting diabetes
  • lower your risk of getting cancer?

One analysis of multiple studies revealed:

Walking lowered the risk of cardiovascular events by nearly a third (31 percent), and cut the risk of dying by a similar amount (32 percent, or about one-third).

This reduction occurred for men and women. The researchers found a benefit even at distances of only 5.5 miles per week, at a pace as low as 2 miles per mile. For those who walked longer distances, the benefits appeared most significant at a faster rate or both.

3. Improve your energy

Want to improve your energy? Regular walking can boost your energy while also improving sleep and reducing stress. Investigators in Norway evaluated eight randomized studies and reported data from 1,518 participants in their review.

Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome generally had less fatigue after exercise interventions. They could not establish which exercise type is optimal, however.

4. Make your bones stronger

Walking is not as impressive when it comes to maintaining your muscle and bone health. Beginning around age 30, we begin to experience a drop in our muscle strength and bone mineral density. Over time, this can increase the chances of falls, bone breaks, or osteoporosis. While exercise can help fight bone and muscle loss, we need to optimize our physical activity approach.

Lifting weights or doing activities such as pushups use resistance. Such actions make our muscles work harder, which in turn can make them stronger. A side benefit is that muscle-strengthening can deliver some bone-building benefits. But how can we use our walking routine for muscle-strengthening and bone-building? After a nice warm-up, try:

  • Moving faster. Aim for a brisk walk. One approach is to alternate regular pace walking for a few minutes with brisk walking for a minute or two.
  • Move higher. Consider walking up stairs or hills to carry your weight in novel ways.
  • Add body-weight exercises. When you hit that intersection, stop and do some lunges or squats.

By tweaking your walking routine, you may give your bones a bit of a boost. Walking can also improve your leg structure and shape (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and shins).

5. Reduce joint pain

Walking can increase blood flow to your cartilage, the connective tissue found in many parts of our bodies, including the joints between bones (such as the knees and ankles). In a joint (such as the knee), articular cartilage helps with:

  • Smooth movement. Slippery cartilage helps our bones to glide over one another as the joint flexes and straightens.
  • Shock absorption. Cartilage helps to cushion our bones from impacting one another during activities such as walking.

For many, walking can help with osteoarthritis. The ambulation can strengthen your muscles. The walking can take some pressure off your joints, reducing discomfort. Walking can also improve stability, balance, and flexibility. Of course, don’t overdo: Listen to your body. If walking hurts, discuss it with your health care provider.

6. Get in a better mood

Walking may be right for your mood. In a Saint Xavier University study of 128 college students, researchers told participants that the investigation would examine how being close to exercise equipment affected their responses to varying environments. The researchers provided instructions by computer, with no human interaction.

The researchers investigated how sitting, standing, or walking affected mood. Those who walked increased their positive affect, while standing in place did not. A separate study from these scientists demonstrated that “walking seems to improve attentiveness and cheerfulness.”

Are walking benefits genetic or kinetic?

Finnish doctors studied 16,000 healthy (at the study start) same-sex twins, beginning in 1975. The volunteers gave information on their exercise habits and other known predictors of mortality.

The researchers considered those who reported exercising for over 30 minutes for at least six times per month (at an intensity such as brisk walking) to be “conditioning exercisers.” They labeled those who exercised less as “occasional exercisers,” and those who did not exercise as “sedentary.”

During the study’s twenty-year follow-up, 1,253 subjects died. The exercise proved strongly protective (even after accounting for other risk factors.

Exercise reduced the death rate of conditioning exercisers by nearly half (43 percent), and occasional exercisers by 29 percent.

The question remains: Are exercise benefits genetic or kinetic? Is exercise protective, or do genetically healthier individuals tend to exercise more? Twins who exercised regularly had a 56 percent lower likelihood of dying during the study period than their sedentary siblings. Twins who exercised only occasionally had a 34 percent lower death rate compared to their sedentary siblings.

It’s the shoes, not the genes.

Get up and go

Give physical activity the priority it deserves. Just walk. In a business suit or jeans. In the city center, or the woods. It is time more of us took a step to better health. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter. Thank you for joining me today.


I have degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Penn. I am a radiation oncologist in the Seattle area. You may find me regularly posting at

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