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The Easy-Peasy Habit That Can Lead to Better Health

And the simple ways to make it a regular thing.

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Justin Tran
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By now, you probably know the health benefits of walking, but they are so impressive, they bear repeating. Simply walking, no fancy gym or equipment required, can reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes. It can improve your mood and may even help you sleep better. (That’s something I can certainly use.) Now it turns out, it takes fewer steps than previously thought to start reaping these benefits.

Okay, let me continue. For years, 10,000 steps a day has been touted as the ideal goal to improve overall health. That’s great, but let’s be honest, we can’t all hit that every day. I live in a city and walking is one of my main forms of transportation. There are plenty of days, though, where my tracker doesn’t come close to that magic number.

I was thrilled when I read a study published this year (2024) in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. It followed over 72,000 people, ages 40-69, and found that as few as 2,200 steps a day can lower the risk of heart disease. “Walking is simple, free and does not require any training, and thus is an ideal activity for most Americans, especially as they age,” the study concluded.

Other studies also show that even short periods of moderate exercise lower the overall risk of mortality compared to being sedentary. (Translation: Getting off the couch is always better than staying on it.) Of course, the more you walk, the more you decrease your risk of disease. For the record, the peak number for health benefits is still 9,000 to 10,000 steps a day, but who’s counting? Every little bit counts, and you can space your steps out throughout the day.

One thing I do when I’m feeling tired or just plain lazy is tell myself to just go out for a five-minute walk. I then give myself permission to come home. Almost every time, though, I find my mood lifting the minute I get outside. That instant gratification motivates me as much as the health benefits.

Summer is the ideal time to tie up your sneakers (remember to double knot your laces) and head out for a walk. When temperatures rise, go early in the morning or later in the afternoon, slather on the sunblock and hydrate. Here are some of my favorite ways to stay motivated and step up your game.

Start dating

I’m not saying you need a romantic partner for a walk. That’s another story. Having a walking buddy, though, not only helps you stay accountable, it also makes walking a lot more fun and can strengthen relationships.

My friend, Laura, lives a few blocks away. Recently, we began taking walks together a few afternoons a week. Though we knew each other when our children were young, walking together now we've connected on a new, deeper level at this stage of our lives. Another benefit of having a walking buddy is that you are less likely to stay on the couch if someone is waiting for you.

Tip: While I’m all in favor of spontaneity, it’s a good idea to arrange a standing (okay, walking) date and put it in your calendar just as you would any other appointment.

Mystery walks

I save certain audiobooks for solitary walks, particularly mysteries. There’s nothing like wanting to know what happens next to get me out of the house. The trick is not to let yourself listen until you are out the door. I’m also a fan of podcasts. From celebrity interviews to true crime, you’re bound to find that piques your interest. No matter what you’re listening to, make sure you stay aware of your surroundings, especially when you have headphones on.

Tip: I use my local library app, Libby, to get audiobooks for free.

Meditate on this

Sitting in silence is not the only way to get the benefits of meditation. A walking meditation can help to soothe your mind while moving your body. I often find it helps me with anxiety more than sitting meditation. All walking meditation really requires is that you stay in the present moment. Pay attention to how the air feels on your skin, the sound your feet make hitting the ground.

The warm months are the perfect time to take a meditative walk in nature, which is particularly beneficial for mental health and improving your sleep. One study published in Scientific Reports, (April 2020) conducted with people over age 70 found that being active in nature improved sleep, a sense of well-being and cognitive functioning.

Tip: You don't need vast open spaces to get the nature bump. A local park with trees will do the trick. It's all about being immersed in some green. 

Take a swing  

One way to up your walking game (and up the health benefits) is to step up your pace at set intervals. For example, maintain your regular stride for two minutes, then speed walk for one minute. Doing these short bursts can help to improve heart health, stave off age-related muscle loss and may even help to reduce body fat.

Tip: Don’t worry about people thinking you look crazy swinging your hips and arms when you speed walk. We’re too old to care about that, right???

Alright, enough talking. It’s time for me to head to my local park. It’s a green oasis just a few blocks from my house where I get a kick out of watching dogs playing and children running around. I might even do an extra lap. (Okay, it’s a very small park, but everything counts!)

Do any of you walk regularly? How many times a week do you walk? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Health
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