Human beings were designed to move, and the movement our ancestors did most often was walking. We didn’t sit in our caves for long hours each day or, later, in our fields. We didn’t get food by dialling a phone number or opening a refrigerator door. And we didn’t spend our leisure hours — if we had any — on our backsides, straining our eyes, necks, and backs staring at screens. We walked. We ran. And we were good at it.
These two behaviours formed the backbone of our early hunting strategies. Humans are slower over short distances than most prey we hunt, thanks to our bipedal posture, and so we relied on our endurance instead in a technique called persistence hunting, which means walking, running, and tracking animals to exhaustion. Our ability to sweat to cool our bodies coupled with our relative lack of body hair also worked in our favour here.
And so it should come as no surprise that walking is good for us. Our bodies were meant to do it. While running does have its benefits, it can be prohibitive as well, putting a lot of stress on the body, particularly for the elderly or those with joint or respiratory problems. Walking, on the other hand, can be done by just about anybody, and results in immediate and tangible benefits.
Exercise does not have to be high-intensity in order for it to be effective, and walking is the most accessible option for people of all fitness levels. It requires no gym, no fancy equipment, and no training. All you need are a pair of good shoes and the desire to move!
So what are the benefits of walking?
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to take up walking is its effect on your mood. Physical activity of any kind can reduce symptoms of depression drastically, and walking is no exception. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, stressed out or angry, a brisk walk can bring you back to centre, and your body and brain will benefit from the fresh air and sunshine, too.
Walking also promotes creativity and focus, so if you’re having a difficult time being productive — maybe you’re struggling with writer’s block, staring at a daunting blank page, or maybe you can’t concentrate and have been reading the same paragraph for the last 20 minutes — the best thing you can do is get up and move those legs.
Though it might seem counterintuitive, walking also diminishes fatigue, meaning that if you’re feeling tired or drowsy, you’ll benefit more from getting up and moving around than reaching for another coffee.
Walking is also the perfect activity to practice mindfulness, a meditative technique proven to benefit us both physically and psychologically in countless ways. When you set out for a walk, use it as an opportunity to unplug from the stresses of daily life and allow your mind to rest. Stay off your cell phone or, better yet, leave it at home.
Focus on your physical senses — the feeling of the breeze whispering across your skin, the sun shining against your face, your lungs expanding with air as you breathe in, compressing as you breathe out — and try to slow your breathing, making each breathe deliberate and full. Concentrating on these more immediate inputs will naturally result in a more quiet mind, which in turn results in a more peaceful state of being.
Need more proof? A study released by California State University, Long Beach titled “Amount of Daily Walking Predicts Energy, Mood, Personality, and Health” studied the effects of walking on the mind, with spectacular results:
Walking more each day is related to a wide variety of mood and personality variables. The more people walk each day, the more energetic they feel and the better their mood. Although intuitively it would seem that walking more reduces energy, the opposite is true. More walking is associated with more energy. In addition to more energy and better mood, self-esteem and happiness increase when people walk more. Also, walking more appears to result in better nutrition. Why this occurs is unclear, but it may be related to the energy connection (Thayer, 1996). It is apparent that energy is an important variable as demonstrated by increased sleep being associated with more walking.
To further benefit from the regenerative power of your walk, make sure to do it in nature.
For more reasons to include this simple activity into your daily routine, including the many ways it will improve your physical health, check out the infographic below!