COVID-19 not only altered how many people live and work, but also how they move. With more of us working or studying from home, many are moving less than they did before the pandemic started. As highlighted in the New York Times, smartphone users who tracked daily steps with a pedometer found themselves accomplishing fewer steps as the pandemic wore on. Simply opening a laptop at home and logging on to work or school requires significantly less physical energy than going into an office or classroom each day.
While many may like this change (lack of commute, better hours, etc), it’s important to replace that lost physical activity to improve overall health. Taking a leisurely walk—even for just 30 minutes a day—can have tremendous health benefits, especially for those who find themselves more stagnant than before.
Here’s why (and how) you should get your steps in every single day to benefit your health—and change your life.
What are the Health Benefits of Walking?
Going for a walk is often overlooked as a valuable form of exercise due to its low intensity. Walking, however, can improve fitness and cardiac health and help alleviate depression and fatigue. Additionally, the lower-intensity movement is easier on muscles and joints than running while also preventing weight gain.
Walking is also known to improve the management of conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Experts recommend walking for at least 30 minutes a day at a brisk pace (where a person can still talk and carry on a conversation but may be puffing slightly). That 30 minutes can be broken up into shorter sessions to build up to longer periods or accommodate a busy schedule.
When done for longer durations, walking can provide the same physical and mental benefits as running. More importantly, though, incorporating walking into one’s daily routine can lead to more positive behaviors, such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator, playing outside with your children, or walking to local stores instead of driving. For many, the simple act of walking can help inspire other changes and increase physical movement.
Don’t Forget the Mental Health Benefits
Walking does not require any special equipment or expertise; you just need to find time and a safe place to walk. If you live in a crowded area, walk with a face mask on. With more people spending time at home, a mid-day or late afternoon walk can provide a mental break during or at the end of the workday. This time can serve as a way to refresh your body and mind before starting the next phase of your day—whether it’s picking up your children or making dinner.
Walking can also provide time for a mental break. Call a friend or family member, listen to an audiobook, podcast, or music, or simply enjoy nature. It can also be easily done with a friend or family member who is also looking to make a positive physical change. Those with dogs can also take their four-legged friend with them—as it’s hard to find a dog who doesn’t enjoy a nice walk.
A Stanford University study found that walking increased creative output by 60 percent, reporting the process helped open up the free flow of ideas. For a person who spends hours each day looking at a computer, taking time for a walk can help them break out of patterns and inspire new thoughts.
Stuck at Home? Start Moving.
Thoughts of exercise typically focus on more intense activities, such as running, aerobics, or weight lifting. Walking offers many of the same benefits, although participants will need to spend more time walking to get similar results.
Walking can be a wonderful way to maintain health or start a fitness program. Going for a daily walk can help create positive habits that could lead to running or more intense activities, and even spur a more healthy diet. Even if a person just continues to walk, though, that will also be beneficial. The key for most people, especially those who have found themselves in a more sedentary lifestyle, is to simply start moving in some way.
The pandemic has greatly changed the way people interact with the world. The old idea that people who lived in cities typically get more exercise because they had to walk more is no longer as applicable. With work-from-home orders and decreased social opportunities, almost everyone finds themselves needing to get more activity. Walking can be done anywhere at any time, and it’s a fantastic way to improve overall health.
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