(Photo by Chris Cheng)
We all know exercise is good for us, even something as simple as walking. To get you started on the right path (pun intended), the Forest Preserve District offers miles and miles of trails. For more information, check out our guide for walking in the preserves.
But if you need a little more motivation than that to get outside for a walk, here’s a look at five reasons why you should make time today and every day.
It may help you live longer
Even a little bit of regular walking is good for you, according to a study led by the American Cancer Society and published in 2018 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
For substantial health benefits, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week, according to the U.S. Department of Health's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The cancer society seconds those recommendations, and used that guideline as the baseline in their study.
The findings of the study showed that walking less than the recommended 150 minutes per week still correlated with a lower mortality risk, but more walking or physical activity lowered a person's mortality risk even more. People who walked less than 2 hours a week were at a lower risk for death than those who got no physical activity, but adults who walked 1 to 2 times more than the recommended 150 minutes had a 20 percent lower risk of mortality.
Bottom line: Walking does a body good.
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Being outside lowers your risk for many chronic diseases
Spending time outside in nature can lower your risk of premature death as well as several chronic illnesses, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, according to a study conducted at the University of East Anglia. For women of childbearing age, it also reduces the risk of preterm birth.
"We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration," the study's authors wrote. "People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to green space significantly reduces people's levels of salivary cortisol – a physiological marker of stress."
No matter where you are in Will County, you aren't too far from a forest preserve or other green space. And you don't necessarily have to spend your time outside walking, but it certainly adds to the benefits you reap, because any exercise is good exercise.
It can improve your mood
Being outdoors can improve your mood and boost feelings of happiness and well-being as well as relieve stress and anxiety, the American Heart Association reports. Some doctors in the United Kingdom have even started prescribing nature as a way to treat a wide range of conditions such as high blood pressure and depression, CNN reports.
The importance of spending time outdoors has become so well-known and understood that we even have terms for it — forest bathing and ecotherapy to name just a few.
Moreover, a 30-minute walk three times a week can be as effective at relieving the symptoms of depression as anti-depressant medications, according to a Duke University Medical Center study.
It can reduce your risk for cancer
Regular physical activity, including walking, lowers a person’s risk of developing several types of cancer, including colon cancer, breast cancer and endometrial cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition, physical activity can prevent obesity, which is associated with an increased risk of 13 types of cancer.
Research continues into how regular physical activity may lessen the likelihood of someone developing cancer, but there are several leading theories about the connection. For example, in the case of breast cancer and colon cancer, exercise can lower levels of hormones like estrogen and insulin as well as growth factors associated with the development of cancer and the disease’s progression, according to the National Cancer Institute. Regular exercise may also lessen a person’s cancer risk by reducing inflammation and improving immune system function.
It can help you lose weight
Walking is something most of us do every day without giving it a second thought, so we don't often think of it as exercise. But it's one of the best and easiest forms of exercise, and it’s free too.
Of course, as with any kind of exercise, the more intense your walk or workout the more calories you will burn. And the more calories burned, the more weight you can lose.
If you want to start a walking regimen as part of a weight-loss plan, aim for 30 minutes a day, Mayo Clinic advises. You don't have to do the 30 minutes all at once. You can break it up into smaller walks, maybe a 10-minute walk on your lunch break and a 20-minute walk with the dog after dinner.
To maximize the health benefits, aim for 60 minutes of walking or activity most days of the week, Mayo Clinic reports. And, of course, if you've been relatively inactive and want to start regular walking or exercise, start slowly and build up your endurance over time.