No one in the world would ever call me an enthusiastic athlete. I duck if a ball is thrown my way. I hate getting sweaty. And I used to be one of those kids who would do anything to get out of running the mile in gym class.
But there is one thing that I manage to do every single day. Each morning I walk for at least a full hour. And not just because I have a dog who needs a lot of exercise.
It might not seem like the most exciting activity. To some people, strolling around for 60 minutes might seem like torture. But walking is one of my very favorite things to do — so much so, that I’ll even go out when it’s scorching hot, pouring rain or snowing like crazy.
Here are five big reasons why.
1. It’s good for me physically.
If you’ve been a LIVESTRONG.COM reader for a while, there’s a good chance you’re already pretty well-versed in all of exercise’s physical health benefits. (But in case you need a reminder, here you go.)
Even though walking is more low-intensity and low-impact than things like running or CrossFit, let’s get one thing clear: It still counts as exercise! Walking at a brisk pace can help ward off diabetes and heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol just as effectively as running, according to a study of more than 45,000 people from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division, in Berkley, California. And the chances of getting hurt are much lower.
No, a daily stroll might not burn the most calories, but it burns more than sitting on the couch. So if you’re looking to lose weight, daily walking can help get your closer to your goal (depending on what your starting point is). But when it comes to the number on the scale, my only goal is to keep it where it is. And regular walking seems to work just fine for that.
2. It’s a proven mood booster.
Exercise floods the body with feel-good hormones called endorphins. And there’s no shortage of research linking regular exercise to lower rates of depression.
Which is a great thing, of course. But you could probably get that post-workout high from any kind of activity that gets your blood pumping — whether it’s sprinting on a treadmill or lifting weights.
The gym doesn’t have fresh air, trees or sunshine, though. Nope, to get all that, you have to head outside. And mood-wise, it can be pretty powerful: Walking for 90 minutes in a natural area actually decreases activity in the brain in areas that are associated with depression, according to Stanford University findings.
I live in a city, so my walks don’t involve wandering through the woods. (Though that sounds pretty nice too!) But I still have access to plenty of greenery — from the tree-lined streets to the local parks and community gardens to the impressive potted plants that everyone puts out in lieu of having an actual lawn. And seeing all of it makes me plenty happy.
3. It’s my chance to zone out.
All busy adults need a chill-out activity to help keep their stress levels in check. For me, that’s walking. I like to think of it as a form of moving meditation. Just like seated meditation or yoga, walking is a chance for me to mentally slow down and be alone with my thoughts.
There’s one important thing I remember, though: I can’t look at my phone. One of the big things that makes walking so relaxing is the solitude. That gets disrupted as soon as I start checking texts or Instagram. And, of course, nothing kills a walk’s vibe faster than an urgent work email.
Does that mean you should leave your phone at home? It might not be a bad idea. A 2014 study from the University of Southern Maine suggest that even having your phone nearby can be a source of distraction. But if you don’t like being that disconnected, at least put your device on silent so you won’t hear it or feel it vibrate.
4. It gets the gears in my brain turning.
Ever notice that you tend to get some of your best ideas when you’re doing something totally mindless — like taking a shower or doing the dishes?
You can get those same strokes of brilliance when you walk. In one 2014 Stanford University study, walking subjects performed significantly better on tests designed to measure creative thinking as compared to subjects who took the tests while they sat.
In fact, strolling was shown to boost creative thoughts by as much as 60 percent. Experts don’t fully understand why, but the benefit might come from that meditative, zoned-out vibe that walking tends to bring. When your mind isn’t focusing on something specific, it’s free to wander to new, interesting places.
And as a writer, I can confirm that it definitely works. Trying to brainstorm at my desk always feels like a challenge. But most days, at least a few ideas will come to me out of nowhere while I’m walking.
5. It’s the one form of exercise that I actually enjoy.
Not all of us are genetically programmed to enjoy working out. And while I’ve never been evaluated by a geneticist, I’m pretty sure that my DNA is not that of an exercise lover. You can go ahead and call me lazy if you’d like. But exerting myself just isn’t my idea of fun.
That matters, because disliking a workout is one of the top reasons people quit. I know that if I forced myself to do something I hated (sorry, running) it wouldn’t be long before I started making up excuses for why I couldn’t work out that day.
As for walking? Not only do I look forward to it — I actually get cranky on the rare days that I don’t get to walk. So I’ll keep on lacing up my sneakers and heading out. You should give it a try!