6 Reasons Taking Walks Might Be Even Better Than Going To The Gym

When most people think of getting fit, images of free weights, earbuds, and high-intensity elliptical workouts or sweaty 5Ks usually come to mind — but, as it turns out, the physical and mental health benefits of walking daily (or at least five times a week) just might make you want to reconsider your gym membership. Of course, there's no denying that walking probably won't give you the definition or weight loss results that running (yuck) or CrossFit (double yuck) would — but if your goal is simply to live well and be healthy, and not to lose weight quickly, then you really should start going on more walks.

Studies have shown that walking briskly (about three to four miles per hour) can reduce your risk of developing life-threatening diseases, and it can help treat depression and anxiety, too. Not to mention the fact that it's one form of exercise that is both free and easy to do. There's literally no training involved, it can be a super social activity if you want it to be, and you can do it anywhere.

Personally, I love walking — and I've been relying on long, brisk, outdoor walks to combat my anxiety, and boost my mood, creativity, productivity, and endurance for a while. Now, am I as ripped as I'd like to be? Not at all. Do I need to add some strength training to my exercise routine? Probably, yes. That said, I can tell you with total certainty that my healthiest and most emotionally steady days are always the ones that include a walk — and if you start adding a 30 minute walk to your daily routine too, you'll probably find the same thing to be true for you.

If you don't believe me, believe the research that backs me up. Here are six reasons you should be going on more walks.

1. It's Free & Easy

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Admittedly, walking is easier and more pleasurable if you live near a park, hiking trails, or in a neighborhood with well-maintained sidewalks and tree-lined streets. However, unless you live in a particularly rough neighborhood, you can walk pretty much anywhere. (You can also save up and buy a treadmill, but walking outdoors is both more fun and better for your mood.)

2. You're Less Likely To Skip It Or Injure Yourself

Walking is low-intensity — which means you're less likely to injure yourself compared to other forms of exercise. Because it also doesn't tend to hurt, you get to avoid the pre-workout dread that often precedes a run or a trip to the gym, while still ensuring you move your body regularly. (Though I'm not saying you shouldn't do those things, too — just consider taking a short walk before or after your high-intensity workout.)

If you have a hard time getting to the gym, you could always just tell yourself you'll take a long walk instead. Who knows — once you get warmed up, you might even be inspired to jog a bit.

3. It Can Double As Meditation

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Your daily walk can be incredibly meditative if you want it to be, and you really should give it a try — because our minds need to rest, and walking is a great way to temporarily remove the constant technological distractions we love from our consistently busy lives. Plus, if you're making an effort to be self-aware while you walk, you'll learn how to become more in tune with your body.

For me, walking isn't just about exercise. It's often a way for me to clear my head and force myself to be in the moment — and while there are times when I just can't seem to quiet my mind during a walk, most of the time, walking gives me some desperately needed time for quiet meditation and self-reflection. If you think you might benefit from meditation but you also like to move around as much as possible, give walking meditation a try. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

4. It's A Restorative Way To Boost Your Mood

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Walking for 30 to 45 minutes five times a week has been shown to improve symptoms of depression in adults, and for me personally, it's sometimes the only thing that helps ease anxiety. These mood-boosting benefits are even greater if you take your walks outside.

According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, which included 1,991 people and was published in the journal Ecopsychology in 2014, nature walks (particularly group nature walks) "appear to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress ... while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being."

So basically, walking outdoors with friends keeps you fit and makes your problems seem smaller than they did pre-walk. We should all be walking with our buddies a lot more.

5. It Lowers Your Risk Of Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, & Diabetes

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According to the American Heart Association, walking for just 30 minutes a day can lower you blood pressure and your cholesterol — and these results ultimately work to lower your risk for both heart disease and stroke, while simultaneously helping you maintain overall heart health.

Walking also helps prevent the development of diabetes and breast cancer. Earlier this year, Everday Health reported that even a 20 minute walk can lower you blood sugar for up to 24 hours — and research has shown that women who walk up to seven hours a week lower their risk for developing breast cancer by 14 percent.

6. It Increases Productivity & Creativity

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In 2014, Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creativity. According to the findings of this Stanford study, our creative output increases by a whopping 60 percent when we're walking — and, evidently, this creative surge will happen whether you take your walk indoors or outdoors. So although walking outdoors is preferable for your mood, it's simply the act of walking that really gets your creativity going — and this is yet another reason I like to recommend walking daily.

As much as I love to write, I do have those days when getting started on an article feels nearly impossible. Even a 15 minute walk usually kick-starts my creativity and focuses my mind enough so I can get to work. So if you're a working writer, a student, or you're just struggling to complete a DIY project in your apartment, don't underestimate the power of a brisk walk. Trust me — it just might be the best decision you make all day.

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