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  • Michael Woessner

The Simple Path to Health and Happiness: The Benefits of Walking 30 Minutes a Day


Image of man's legs walking down the street during sunset.

I've never viewed walking as a priority when it comes to exercise. Recently, however, I've realized that the benefits of walking for 30 minutes a day can transform your life, especially for working professionals that spend a good amount of their day sitting behind a computer. The best part about it is that it's a simple exercise you can incorporate into your day; you only need to dedicate the time.

Over the past few months, I have added walks to my daily routine, and it has quickly become one of my favorite, most productive times of the day.

Here are six reasons why I believe that walking is one of the most valuable types of exercise that every working professional should add to their daily routine:

It Will Help You Stay Physically Healthy (obviously! 🙄)

Research shows that regular walking can reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and even certain types of cancer. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic, walking for 30 minutes a day for five days a week can significantly lower the risk of chronic disease.

I love to walk in the mornings. I can control my time a bit better before the workday starts, so I can usually take extended walks in the morning versus walks I take mid-day or after dinner. There are certainly some benefits of taking walks during the work day, which I address below; however for me, I feel more productive when I'm able to get my steps in before I start my day. I can also dedicate more time to my walks if I go earlier in the day. I can dedicate a full 60 minutes to walking if I can get up and out in the morning, which means that I'm burning over 400 calories before I even have my first cup of coffee. If I go later in the day, I usually only get in 30-45 minutes of walking in.

I recommend using some sort of wearable device to understand your resting heart rate and monitor your heart rate on your walks. It's essential to ensure that you are raising your heart rate on your walks to maximize your walk's effectiveness. I try to keep my heart rate at least 30% above my resting heart rate on a walk. Typically, on elevation climbs, I can get it to 100% above my resting heart rate. Wherever you land, it's important that you do your best to make sure you're maintaining an elevated heart rate while you're on your walk to maximize the benefits.

Energize Your Mind and Body

Walking is not just about physical health; it can also benefit your mental well-being. Stepping out into nature, strolling around your neighborhood, or even walking around your company's campus can help clear your mind, reduce stress, and boost creativity. It's a simple healthy hack to rejuvenate your mind during busy workdays!

An article from the American Psychological Association discusses the benefits of walking for mental health, including reducing depression, anxiety, and stress. The author also mentions a 25% lowered risk of depression among adults who walk for 2.5 hours each week (30 minutes per day, five days per week). Even walking for half this amount of time each week led to an 18% reduction in risk for depression.

Walking can also increase levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine and can also help to improve sleep quality, which can have a positive impact on mental health.

Enhance Your Creativity and Productivity

Walking can do wonders for your productivity at work. Short walking breaks throughout the day can increase blood flow to your brain, improve focus, and enhance cognitive abilities. Step away from your desk, and watch your efficiency soar!

An article in Psychology Today discusses the benefits of walking for creativity and problem-solving. The report states that researchers found creative output increased by 60% on average when walking compared to sitting. It also mentions that you don't need to go to great lengths to benefit from a creativity boost: the study found impacts on creativity from short walks ranging from 5-16 minutes.

I used to listen to music or podcasts during my walks, but recently I've found that I prefer not to listen to anything to encourage creative thinking. You'll be surprised how effectively you can work through problems, strategies, and ideas when you have some white space to sort through it all.

Connect with Your Surroundings

Walking offers an opportunity to engage with your environment. Explore your neighborhood, discover new parks, and relish the beauty of your surroundings. Embrace the serenity of each step, and find joy in the little things!

I'm one of the lucky few that live within walking distance of the beach, and I make it a point to see the ocean on my walks as much as possible. It always amazes me how much happier I become when I finally reach the beach and can consume the beauty of something so massively powerful in nature. I feel similar when walking in nature, but competing with something as enormous as the Pacific is challenging.

I'm also a huge advocate of grounding, or earthing, which is the act of letting your bare feet come in contact with the earth. Most times, it's not practical to try and ground yourself on a walk (unfortunately). I'm mentioning this more as extra credit if you want to maximize your connection with your surroundings. If you can take a barefoot walk on the beach or across an open field, I would certainly jump at the opportunity to do it.

Cortisol Management

Walking can be a fantastic choice if you're starting to incorporate exercise into your routine. Unlike high-intensity running, which can lead to significant spikes in cortisol (known to some as the "stress hormone"), walking provides a gentle, stress-reducing workout. Excessive cortisol levels can potentially harm our health, including impaired immune function, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and disrupted sleep patterns. By choosing to walk, you can manage cortisol levels more effectively and protect your well-being.

I used to be a consistent runner and thought I was on the path to becoming the healthiest I had ever been. About 30 minutes before I suffered from my heart attack, I had just completed a 2.5-mile run and felt great. During my recovery, I couldn't even run for 30 seconds without feeling extremely winded due to my deteriorated heart function. My sole focus during recovery was to get back to the point where I could run 2 miles without walking. I remember crying the day I finally returned to that point after several months of rehab. It wasn't until later that I started reading more and more about the impact of cortisol spikes on potential cardiovascular events and started to question whether or not running was the best exercise for me. I slowly started to transition my running to walking.

There is plenty of literature out there stating that runners need not worry about the spike in cortisol leading to any CV event, which I agree with for the most part. With my history, I'd prefer not to take the risk, and I've found that walking can be a productive replacement. I also think for those that are not currently active, that walking is a much safer introduction to exercising than running.

Bring Joy to Yourself and Others

As you walk, remember the power of spreading joy. I recommend keeping your head up on your walks, smiling warmly, and waving at everyone passing by. This simple act of kindness can brighten someone's day, create quick connections, and foster a sense of safety and community.

By the time my morning walk is complete, I've engaged with 20-30 of my neighbors from my community, which also means that I've already smiled 20-30 times before I've started my day. I can't stress how much of an impact this early positive momentum has had on the rest of my day. Let your positivity radiate with each step you take!

In Closing

Walking every day can be a transformative habit for working professionals. It improves physical health and enhances mental well-being, productivity, and connection with our surroundings. By choosing walking as a regular exercise routine, you can effectively manage cortisol levels, reduce stress, and protect your overall well-being. So put on your walking shoes, explore the world around you, and experience the incredible benefits of walking. It's the simple path to health and happiness!

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