When it comes to shedding pounds, walking to lose weight is one of the easiest, most accessible forms of exercise you can choose. It's the simplest, easiest way to get our bodies moving, and it's absolutely free. It's also got a whole host of benefits, from improving our heart health to our mental health and helping us lose weight.
But before you pull on your best shoes for walking, know this: it doesn't just matter that you walk, it also matters why.
It sounds strange, but walking for a purpose (for example, to work or the shops) helps you significantly improve your health more than others who just walk for pleasure.
The study, published in the Journal of Transport and Health, was conducted by researchers from Ohio State University. The researchers analyzed self-reported health assessments from 125,885 adults between the ages of 18 and 64, looking at the length and purpose of walking trips.
The researchers found walking of any kind improved perceived health metrics, but those who walked for a purpose such as a commute reported better health than those who walked for pleasure. People who walked to work were also recorded to be walking faster than those out for a leisurely stroll.
It does make sense: if you're walking faster (which is a given, if you have somewhere to be), you're upping the intensity of the exercise, which means your heart works harder and you burn more calories than those who walk simply for pleasure, which usually involves a slower, calmer pace. (You can track this and other useful data simply and easily with the best fitness trackers.)
If you can, arrange your walk through nature, especially if you're walking with others. One study conducted by researchers from the universities of both Michigan and Aberdeen found the following:
"The positive associations of group walks in nature were at a greater magnitude than the negative associations of stressful life events on depression, positive affect, and mental well-being, suggesting an ‘undoing’ effect of nature group walks."
Yep, walking in nature, especially with a group, actually functions to undo symptoms of stress and depression, winding the clock back on your workweek.
Walking, whether through the countryside, a national park or just to work in the morning, is far and away the best way to get around.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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