In addition to helping prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, walking offers many other health benefits as well. One is its ability to help reduce and manage stress. Suffering from chronically elevated levels of stress over a long period of time can start to have a negative impact on your body and your health.
Elevated stress levels can increase blood pressure, lead to weight gain and increased belly fat, and even cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea. Walking can help you to better manage stress and reduce the associated negative health consequences.
Research has found that by walking, you can reduce anxiety and increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body, which are basically “feel‐good chemicals” in the brain. Elevating these brain chemicals can fight stress, decrease muscle tension, and decrease anxiety.
Walking can also help to impact sleep. Poor sleep or getting too little sleep has been associated with accelerated aging as well as an increased risk of weight gain. If you suffer from insomnia or are a generally poor sleeper, walking may be the key to a more restful night.
One study in the Journal of Sleep Medicine shows just how powerful even a small amount of walking can be on sleep. It found that women age 60 and older woke up half as often and slept on average 48 minutes longer when walking just one hour per week as compared to women of the same age who were sedentary. In addition, other research has shown a decrease in nighttime waking and nightmares in individuals who walk on a regular basis.
All of this increased quality of sleep results in a more rested you, who is healthier, happier, and better able to handle stress. In addition, direct links have been found between poor sleep and fatigue and food cravings and increased body weight. So it’s quite possible that by improving the quality and quantity of your sleep you can actually rest away the pounds and inches!
For women who suffer from the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, weight gain, and night sweats, walking may offer some relief. One study found that performing moderate exercise, such as walking three hours per week, helped to reduce menopause‐related symptoms. In addition, other research found that women who walked just 25 minutes per day suffered less menopause‐related weight gain and headaches than those who walked less than 10 minutes per day.
As you can see, no matter your age, current weight, or lifestyle, walking offers benefits from cutting stress to fighting disease and everything in between. It doesn’t take much, either — just a few minutes per day, and you’ll be on your way to a healthier you!