7 Ways Walking Boosts Your Health

Moving more and sitting less can help reduce your risk for chronic disease, keep your mind sharp, and lift your mood. 

Updated on February 24, 2023

A person lacing up their shoes for a much needed walk.
1 / 9

For many people, a good pair of walking shoes and some extra steps each day may go a long way, improving their mental and physical health and well-being. Government guidelines recommend that most adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, each week. That’s about 30 minutes per day, five days a week. They should also aim to engage in muscle-building exercises at least twice per week.

But it seems most U.S. adults are not meeting these physical activity recommendations. Researchers recently analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2020 National Health Interview Survey. They compared physical activity levels in different parts of the U.S., including rural and urban areas. Overall, the analysis published in January 2023, found that across all regions, no more than 52 percent of adults were getting the recommended amount of aerobic activity, only about 35 percent were meeting muscle-strengthening guidelines, and just 28 percent met both physical activity goals.

If you don’t have the time or fitness level needed for lengthy workouts, you can break up your activity into short bouts of exercise. Any exercise is better than none, experts advise, noting that quick five or 10-minute walks can add up over time.

To help you stay accountable, keep tabs on your progress with a tracking app like Sharecare (available for iOS and Android). Take your phone with you on your stroll, and Sharecare’s step counter will automatically log your movement.

If mobility is an issue for you, do as much you can to avoid inactivity. If you must adapt to a disability, work with your healthcare provider (HCP) or a trained exercise specialist to learn what is safe and appropriate for you.

Every minute of movement counts towards your weekly physical activity goals and will help reduce your risk for chronic health issues like heart disease and diabetes. Learn more about the significant benefits of a simple walking routine.

group of people walking in park
2 / 9
Maintain a healthy weight

Walking—and other forms of physical activity—help you burn calories. The longer or faster you walk, the more energy you’ll expend.

Optimize your walking and burn more calories with interval training. This type of workout combines short bursts of intense activity with periods of recovery, which can help increase weight loss and cardiorespiratory fitness.

Start simple: As you’re walking, pick a spot ahead of you. Increase your pace until you reach it, then reduce your speed. Alternate between two minutes of moderately paced walking and one minute of fast walking. Continue this pattern throughout your walk.

Two women walking in park
3 / 9
Manage or prevent diabetes

Walking can help you manage and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. If left unchecked, this chronic disease can damage the heart, nerves, eyes, and kidneys over time.

Being overweight is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Following a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and health fats, while limiting saturated fat and sugar is one important way to reduce your risk for this condition.

Getting regular physical activity is another step you can take. For many people, a walking routine may be one simple way to find time for fitness every day. A 2022 study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that, in a group of ethnically diverse women in their 70s and 80s, every 2,000 steps taken per day contributed to a 12-percent reduction in risk for developing diabetes.

walking the dog
4 / 9
Improve your heart health

Walking can reduce your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which can lead to heart disease and stroke. You might be surprised to learn that when it comes to heart disease risk, the benefits of walking may be similar to those associated with running. So, someone who runs a mile could receive many of the same benefits if they choose to walk instead (and perhaps go a little farther).

Research published in 2013 in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology concluded that both running and walking reduced the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.

The American Heart Association also suggests that walking at a brisk pace for at least 150 minutes per week is linked to a slew of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It also reduces the risk for depression, which in turn, can help protect the heart. That’s because people with depression have an increased risk for developing heart disease—and vice versa.

Two women walking
5 / 9
Reduce stress

Work, relationships, and money can be stressful, but hitting the pavement can help alleviate the tension. How? Exercise releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain that ease pain and reduce stress. For some, physical activity can also promote feeling of accomplishment, providing an additional mood boost.

You can begin to ease stress and anxiety before your walk with a few minutes of gentle stretching. Loosen your calves, hips, and chest to increase blood flow and reduce your risk of injury.

Group hiking through forest
6 / 9
Support your brain function—and boost your mood

There is a growing pile of evidence, supporting the brain-boosting benefits of exercise, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Physical activity could help you sleep and think better and reduce your risk for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

A 2021 study published in Healthcare looked at the effects of various walking programs on cognitive function and physical fitness in older adults. Researchers found that any type of walking exercise led to cognitive improvements over time.

More recent studies have also established a link between exercise and mental health, suggesting that being active can ease anxiety and reduce the risk for depression.

Woman stretching after waking up
7 / 9
Get more restorative sleep

A brisk morning walk can set your body up for restful sleep at night. Exercise boosts production of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone found in your body. A review published in 2017 in Advances in Preventative Medicine looked at 34 studies involving the effects of exercise on sleep. The researchers found that exercise has a substantial positive effect on sleep quality and duration.

couple walking
8 / 9
Increase your longevity

A November 2017 study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation suggests that older adults could increase their longevity by taking a brisk walk every day. For the study, more than 17,700 women with an average age of 72 were asked to wear tracking devices when they were awake. The wearable technology measured the amount and intensity of their physical activity.

Researchers found participants who engaged in more moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per day—like brisk walking—had a roughly 60 percent to 70 percent lower risk of death, compared to the least active participants.

Group walking through forest
9 / 9
Build a strong support system

Belonging to a group of supportive friends is one of the most influential things you can do for your health and wellness. A moai is a group of people gathering for a common purpose, such as fitness. This Japanese concept developed hundreds of years ago and is still used extensively by people in Okinawa, one of the original Blue Zones longevity hotspots. Try forming a walking moai with your family, friends, and neighbors. Not only can you forge lifelong bonds, but you’ll hold each other accountable in achieving your goals, too.

If friendly competition motivates your group, try one of the steps challenges available on the Sharecare app. Compete with your friends and family to see who can move the most.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Abildso CG, Daily SM, Umstattd Meyer MR, Perry CK, Eyler A. Prevalence of Meeting Aerobic, Muscle-Strengthening, and Combined Physical Activity Guidelines During Leisure Time Among Adults, by Rural-Urban Classification and Region — United States, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2023;72:85–89
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition.; 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats - Exercise or Physical Activity. Page last reviewed June 11, 2021.
Su L, Fu J, Sun S, et al. Effects of HIIT and MICT on cardiovascular risk factors in adults with overweight and/or obesity: A meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2019;14(1):e0210644. Published 2019 Jan 28.
Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Yardley JE, et al. Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2016;39(11):2065-2079.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Preventing Diabetes Problems | NIDDK. Accessed August 17, 2022.
Mayo Clinic. Type 2 Diabetes - Symptoms and Causes. Published January 20, 2021. 
Garduno AC, LaCroix AZ, LaMonte MJ, et al. Associations of Daily Steps and Step Intensity With Incident Diabetes in a Prospective Cohort Study of Older Women: The OPACH Study. Diabetes Care. 2022;45(2):339-347. 
Barone Gibbs B, Hivert MF, Jerome GJ, et al. Physical Activity as a Critical Component of First-Line Treatment for Elevated Blood Pressure or Cholesterol: Who, What, and How?: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Hypertension. 2021;78(2):e26-e37. 
Williams PT, Thompson PD. Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2013;33(5):1085-1091. 
Mayo Clinic Staff. Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. Page last reviewed on August 3, 2022.
Kang SJ, Kim BH, Lee H, Wang J. The Beneficial Effects of Cognitive Walking Program on Improving Cognitive Function and Physical Fitness in Older Adults. Healthcare (Basel). 2021;9(4):419. Published 2021 Apr 5. 
Quan M, Xun P, Chen C, et al. Walking Pace and the Risk of Cognitive Decline and Dementia in Elderly Populations: A Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017;72(2):266-270. 
Harvard Health. 8 secrets to a good night’s sleep. Page last reviewed September 30, 2021.
Dolezal BA, Neufeld EV, Boland DM, Martin JL, Cooper CB. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review [published correction appears in Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:5979510]. Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:1364387. 

More On

10 ways taking a walk can improve your health


10 ways taking a walk can improve your health
Learn all of the ways that taking a brisk walk each day can benefit your overall health. Add a walk to your daily routine today.
What to Wear When You Walk


What to Wear When You Walk
Feel more comfortable—and inspired—in walking gear that works for you.
Get the Most Out of Winter Walking


Get the Most Out of Winter Walking
Don’t let cold weather stop you from burning calories and having fun with friends.
The Best Walking Pace


The Best Walking Pace
Walking is a great simple exercise that you can do anywhere. In this Health Smarts video, fitness expert Mike Clark, DPT, reveals the best walking pac...
3 Tips to Start Your Walking Workout


3 Tips to Start Your Walking Workout
Walking is an exercise to fight stress and lower your risk of cancer and diabetes. In this video, fitness expert Vonda Wright, MD, shares 3 tips to st...