Working from home means Americans are more sedentary than ever. All that time spent sitting down can have repercussions, from heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
The good news is that taking a walk can offset those health problems.
“If walking is all someone does, it could be sufficient,” Melody Ding, PhD, MPH, associate professor at the University of Sydney with expertise in epidemiology and chronic disease prevention, told Verywell via email.
According to Benjamin Bengs, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and Director of Special Surgery at the Center for Hip and Knee Replacement at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, a short daily walk can confer several health benefits, including:
Ding added the benefits of walking are no different from the benefits of most other forms of physical activity. Regular movement can help stave off chronic illness like cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and diabetes.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity—which is any activity that gets the body moving—each week. This can be split into 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
For some people, walking may be the only form of physical activity that is accessible, affordable, and realistic. And it’s considered enough to stay healthy, Tracy Zaslow, MD, primary care sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, told Verywell.
“Walking is a great activity and it’s accessible to such a wide variety of the population. You don’t need any special equipment, facilities, skills, or training,” Zaslow said. “Plus, you can make adjustments to make it more advanced or intense over time.”
For younger people, or people who tend to be more active, a more rigorous workout may be important to maintain “adequate quality of life and health,” Bengs said.
“If all you can do is walk, then that’s what you should do,” he said. “But if you’re able to squeeze in some alternative things like the elliptical or stationary bicycles, those are good additions.”
Both the Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity for general health purposes. Ideally, adults should also do muscle strengthening exercises such as push-ups and weight-lifting at least two days a week. For older adults, WHO recommends varied types of physical activity three or more days a week that focus on balance and strength. This can help prevent falls as you age.
Ding emphasizes you can’t walk your way out of an unhealthy diet. Eating well is critical for a healthy lifestyle and reducing mortality risk.
A study led by Ding found people with high levels of physical activity and a high-quality diet had the best chance of reducing their mortality risk, as well as death from cancer and cardiovascular disease, specifically.
Ding and her colleagues incorporated several food groups into their definition of a high-quality diet:
“Regardless of how active you are, you should eat well, and regardless of diet, you should do physical activity,” Ding said. “Ideally, if you does both well, the mortality risk is the lowest.”
If walking is your primary form of exercise, there are a few things you can do to make it more exciting or challenging:
If you’re just getting started with walking for the first time, Bengs and Zaslow said to start small, make realistic and achievable goals, and be patient with yourself.
“Even if you get frustrated and feel like giving up, be patient and stick with it,” Bengs said. “Don’t just give up if you have a day where you miss your walk or a couple of days where you couldn’t exercise.”
If walking the only type of physical activity you can commit to, experts say that’s good enough to say healthy. Just be sure to pair it with a nutritious diet.