How Your Body Changes When You Walk Every Day, According To Science

According to a 2018 report, walking is the most popular form of exercise in America. Even so, many do not know the benefits of walking every day. You won’t just strengthen your legs; you’ll also boost your immune system, drop weight, and even enhance your brain. When you walk every day, you’ll receive all of these health benefits and more.

Your Risk Of Cancer Will Decrease

A doctor points at a brain tumor on an MRT scan.
Bernd Wüstneck/picture alliance via Getty Images
Bernd Wüstneck/picture alliance via Getty Images

If you walk daily, your risk of cancer drops. According to a 2014 study in Acta Oncologica, people who walk five miles every week have a lower risk of breast and colorectal cancer. Another study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology examined people who walked 2.5 to 5 hours each week. Their chances of kidney, liver, colon, endometrial, and blood cancer shrank.

That said, it is not possible to “walk away” from cancer. But your body can fight off cancer more easily if you get regular exercise, even moderate exercise like walking.

You Might Lose Weight

A man steps on a scale to weigh himself.
Camerique/ClassicStock/Getty Images
Camerique/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to exercise vigorously to lose weight. According to a 2002 study, participants who walked regularly for three months ended up losing weight. Even moderate walking can prevent weight gain if you do it consistently.

However, exercise alone cannot promote weight loss. In 2020, researchers from BYU discovered that people who walk between 10,000 and 15,000 daily is not enough to prevent weight gain. You have to combine a healthy diet with this exercise to see results.

You’ll Have Fewer Cravings

A person reaches for muffins on a plate.
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Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

Did you know that walking can curb cravings? In 2011, researchers from the University of Exeter sent “78 regular chocolate-eaters” on 15-minute walks. On every day that they walked, participants ate half the amount of chocolate they usually would have.

It isn’t just chocolate, either. A 2015 study in PLoS ONE concluded that any sugary craving could be mitigated with a walk. Scientists believe that a low-intensity workout creates enough endorphins to eliminate the body’s cravings. So if you’re craving a sugary or salty treat, go for a short walk and then see how you feel.

You Might Live Longer

An elderly couple walks along a Florida beach together.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

People who walk every day tend to live longer than those who do not exercise. In 2017, researchers from the American Cancer Society studied people who walked for 150 minutes every week (or half an hour for five days a week). These participants had a 20% lower mortality risk.

Another study examined over 16,000 participants over four years. Those who walked 1,000 steps daily (about half a mile) had a 28% lower chance of early death. If you increase that to 2,000 steps, the odds decrease by 32%.

Sleep Will Come More Easily

A man takes a nap with his hands behind his head.
Tania Mousinho/Unsplash
Tania Mousinho/Unsplash

If you are struggling with sleep, daily walks can help. In 2019, research in Sleep Health determined that people who walk during the day tend to sleep better at night. Participants did not just sleep longer; they also had higher quality sleep and more energy during the day.

But how long should you walk? According to professional sports trainer Dana Santas, walking for at least 20 to 25 minutes daily is enough to enhance sleep. But you can certainly walk more for further health benefits.

Your Immune System Will Grow Stronger

A woman with a cold blows her nose in bed.
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

During cold and flu season, walking becomes necessary. Going for a walk significantly benefits the immune system. According to research in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, a 30-minute walk can boost your immune system.

Another study analyzed men and women who walked for 20 minutes five days per week. Over one year, they had 43% fewer sick days than people who did not walk. Exercise lowers inflammation and increases blood flow, which allows immune cells to perform more effectively when they need to.

Heart Health Will Improve

A blue diagram shows a heart arrhythmia.
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BSIP/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Many know that cardio improves heart health, but you don’t have to sprint to gain these benefits. According to research in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, walking strengthens the heart as much as running does. What matters is how far you run or walk.

To have a healthier heart, you need to walk briskly and consistently. In 2011, scientists discovered that regular walking reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in younger, middle, and older adults. It hastens your heart rate, pumps more blood, and sends more nutrients to your heart.

Your Mood Will Noticeably Improve

A couple walks together on a boardwalk.
Vitor Pinto/Unsplash
Vitor Pinto/Unsplash

People who walk regularly tend to have a better mood. In 2015, scientists observed women who walked 200 minutes every week, or 40 minutes five days per week. After three years, the participants felt better emotionally, socialized more, and had more energy.

Walking releases endorphins, chemicals that lift your mood and alleviate pain. This can be especially healthy for older adults. In 2000, a Finnish study found that older adults who cannot exercise vigorously gained many benefits from walking. One of those benefits was a noticeable lack of depression symptoms.

Your Brain Will Become Sharper

A sudoku master shows off his puzzles.
Roberto Pfeil/picture alliance via Getty Images
Getty Images

If you are having trouble focusing, a quick walk might help. Studies have shown that walking boosts brain health. According to a 2017 study at New Mexico Highlands University, walking increases blood flow to the brain. This enhances brain function and literally “clears your head.”

Part of this has to do with walking’s effect on depression and anxiety, says Harvard Health Publishing. With a better mood, your brain can solve problems more quickly and enhance your overall thinking skills. This is why walking during a break speeds up your workflow.

You’ll Be Far Less Likely To Get Diabetes

A person with diabetes measures his blood sugar.
Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Those who worry about getting type 2 diabetes might want to take up daily walking. Not only does walking help you lose weight, but it also controls blood sugar, according to a 2020 study in Medicine.

For the most promising results, walk after meals. In 2016, researchers discovered that post-dinner walks could stabilize blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. Andrew Reynolds, a researcher from the University of Otago, recommends walking after meals daily, especially after eating foods that are high in carbohydrates.

Your Chances Of Dementia Will Decrease

Two elderly women embrace each other and smile.
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Ravi Patel/Unsplash

In 2019, scientists from Newcastle University noticed an odd connection between walking patterns. Older adults who walked more slowly were more likely to get diagnosed with dementia. Because walking nourishes the brain, people who exercise more and have greater mobility are less likely to get dementia.

According to a 2004 study in JAMA, walking greatly reduces the risk of dementia. There are many reasons for this, ranging from greater mobility to sharper memory to better overall health. Even in old age, nobody is too old to start walking and reinforce your brain.

You’ll Be Less Likely To Get Varicose Veins

A man's legs have varicose veins.
Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Varicose veins form when valves become weakened or damaged, often from prolonged standing, weight gain, consuming high amounts of sugar. However, an eight-year study from the AARP found that walking can prevent varicose veins.

Not only does walking accelerate weight loss, but it also strengthens your blood vessels. According to Texas Endovascular, a daily 30-minute walk can delay or prevent varicose veins. If you are worried about it, elevate your legs after a run or long walk. This will prevent blood from pooling in your legs.

Joint Pain Will Gradually Fade

A 3D model portrays joint pain in the knee.
Barbara/Pinterest
Barbara/Pinterest

When people get joint pain, they might not want to exercise. But a brisk walk can alleviate that pain. During a 2019 study, participants with arthritis walked for three days a week. After six weeks, they had much less joint pain. Exercise strengthens the muscles around joints and releases hormones that combat pain.

Even short walks can soothe the pain for older adults with arthritis. According to a study by Northwestern University, walking for an hour each week reduces joint pain, especially in stiff areas like the knees.

You’ll Remain Mobile And Flexible, Even In Old Age

A group of four elderly women hike together.
sk/Unsplash
sk/Unsplash

As people age, their muscles shrink, and they lose mobility. Daily walks can alleviate that. In BMC Geriatrics, a study reported that walking helps older adults stay on their feet. Those who walk regularly have fewer falls and feel more flexible.

The opposite is also true. According to a ten-year study in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, adults who sit often have more trouble walking as they get older. The more you walk today, the more fit and happy you will feel as you age.

Constipation Might Clear Up

A close-up photo shows a woman's feet while walking outdoors.
Fotorech/Pixabay
Fotorech/Pixabay

A brisk walk can support your digestive system and ease constipation. In 2017, scientists tested women with chronic constipation. When they walked for an hour three times per week, their constipation symptoms noticeably improved, as did their overall quality of life.

Why does this happen? According to 2019 research in Nutrients, walking strengthens the abdominal muscles. This, plus the increased blood flow, encourages the gut to create more healthy bacteria called Bacteroides. Even 20-minute walks can restore valuable gut bacteria, says the same study.

You Might Have A Creative Epiphany

A woman leans against a tree and smiles as he thinks.
silviarita/Pixabay
silviarita/Pixabay

In 2014, Stanford scientists figured out why many people get their best ideas while walking. They compared participants’ creativity after walking or sitting. Most of the time, participants came up with more ideas after walking, both indoors and outdoors.

The study specifically reported on brainstorming, not extended focus. However, peoples’ creativity increased by 60%. If you get stumped by a creative project, take a brief walk, even if it is indoors or on a treadmill. The extra endorphins might boost your mood, too.

How Long Should Your Walk Be?

Two women walk through nature.
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Philipp Schulze/picture alliance via Getty Images

Many people measure their walks by time, such as 30 minutes, 5 days per week. Several studies have tested different spans of time. One of the largest was from the American Cancer Society, which tested over 140,000 people. The researchers discovered that walking for two hours every week makes people live longer.

For a minimum of two hours weekly, walk 25 minutes five days a week or 30 minutes four times per week. That said, you might need to built up to that time. Start with ten minute walks and gradually increase the length.

How Far Do You Need To Walk?

A woman turns around while walking down a snowy road.
Karsten Winegeart/Unsplash
Karsten Winegeart/Unsplash

If you’re wondering how much you need to walk, the answer is simple: as much as you can. Many people aim for 10,000 steps daily, but a 2015 study found that mortality lowers by 7,500 steps. Even so, some fitness trainers recommend that you exceed 10,000 steps.

If you don’t like long walks, you can still achieve this. Physician and public health researcher William Tigbe recommends walking in brief spurts throughout the day. Take several ten-minute walking breaks, which will eventually add up to several thousand steps.

To Reap The Benefits, Elevate Your Heart Rate

After exercising, a man rests with his hands on his knees.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

To get the best out of your walk, do more than just a leisurely stroll. Personal trainer J.R. Jones recommends raising your heart rate. You don’t have to power walk, but as long as your heart is pumping faster than normal, you’ll receive health benefits.

The CDC offers another tip for moderate exercises such as walking: if you can’t sing but you can talk fairly easily, you’re going at a good pace. For many people, this is a brisk walk. Moving your arms along with your legs can also speed up your heart rate.

Going At Your Own Pace Is Enough

A top-down photograph shows a woman briskly walking across the street.
Krzysztof Hepner/Unsplash
Krzysztof Hepner/Unsplash

While walking, you do not need to push yourself too hard. In 2020, scientists from the Memorial University of Newfoundland studied participants who walked at a rate that felt comfortable. For most participants, walking “at their own pace” was enough to burn fat and advance weight loss.

Not only that, but the participants also had a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke after walking at their own pace. The key is to walk just fast enough to feel your heartbeat and gain muscle.

Blueberries

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MICHAEL URBAN/AFP/Getty Images
MICHAEL URBAN/AFP/Getty Images

Blueberries are nature’s candy and it’s a wonder why people aren’t eating more of them! Despite their teeny size and delicious taste, blueberries pack quite a punch when it comes to nutrition.

The gallic acid in blueberries prevents our brains from degeneration and stress, which makes sense because how could you be upset while eating a blueberry? To make things even sweeter, blueberries are one of the highest antioxidant-rich fruits around, which prevents brain damage from free radicals. To make things even sweeter, blueberries are chock full of vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber.

Avocados

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Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine anyone hating on avocados. These green beauties are nutritional powerhouses that not only taste great but do wonders for your health. Rich in Vitamin K and folate, avocados boost cognitive function by protecting against stroke and improving your concentration and memory.

If you’re worried about the fat content in avocados, you shouldn’t. Avocados have monosaturated fats, which are good for you as they stabilize your blood sugars and do wonders for the skin. That’s not all — not only are they rich in vitamins B and C, avocados have the highest protein and lowest sugar content of any fruit.

Beets

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Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Beets certainly aren’t a favorite for many vegetable-heads out there, but this might change their minds. Beets are naturally packed with nitrates that boost blood flow to the brain, which of course equals seamless mental function!

This happens because beets are rich in nitrates, which when converted into nitric oxide relaxes and dilates blood vessels. Beets are also rich in Vitamin C, Iron, and Magnesium. They also contain antioxidants that help rid your body of toxins, reducing inflammation and your chances of getting cancer. Gym rats might want to start snacking on beets too since they help boost energy and improve overall athletic performance.

Bone Broth

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jules/Flickr
jules/Flickr

Consuming bone broth is like drinking a multivitamin. It’s packed with over 19 essential and non-essential amino acids, as well as nutrients that support your digestive health. How does this impact your brain exactly?

Proper digestive and immune function will ultimately promote stellar brain health. If your body is functioning properly from the inside, then your brain will also absorb nutrients better while attaining proper blood flow. The amino acids in bone broth will boost immunity and memory. Bone broth is also rich in collagen which is important for your joint health.

Celery

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Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Celery is high in nutrients and low in calories, which makes it the perfect snack to munch on if you want to nourish your body but not gain weight. Celery ensures proper brain function via the numerous ways it aids internal body functions.

The most apparent way that celery achieves healthy brain function is through its anti-inflammatory properties. Celery is packed with antioxidants and polysaccharides that are key nutrients for fighting inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the result of a myriad of health problems such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, as well as a number of infections.

Dark Chocolate

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BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Chocolate lovers have a reason to rejoice! Dark chocolate is known to support healthy cognitive function through the copious amount of flavonols, which are active antioxidants that combat inflammation and free radicals.

For this reason, dark chocolate promotes healthy blood flow to the brain, reducing the chances of developing dementia or suffering a stroke. Dark chocolate is especially beneficial to senior citizens, whose cognitive function is most at risk. When we say dark chocolate, we’re talking about chocolate that’s at least 70% or higher in cocoa content. Anything lighter is probably not the healthiest choice because they contain other additives.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is one of the ultimate brain foods because it contains antioxidants known as polyphenols. Our brains are largely comprised of fatty acids, which makes them essential for performing tasks, regulating mood, and thinking straight.

Luckily, EVOO is chock full of fatty acids while the polyphenols help combat age-related cognitive issues. EVOO also has hormone-balancing, anti-inflammatory effects which help fight mood disorders and depression, which is sometimes a consequence of low-fat diets. If you want to support your brain with EVOO, make sure to find ways to consume it cold, since cooking EVOO takes away most of its benefits.

Egg Yolks

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Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

There’s nothing quite like the incredible, edible egg. But health-conscious folk usually just eat the whites, which is actually unnecessary. A lot of people see egg yolks as the unhealthy part of the egg and usually leave it out over high cholesterol concerns. But discarding your yolks might be a mistake!

Egg yolks are essential for cognitive health and here’s why. The yolks are rich with choline, which is a macronutrient that’s essential for brain development, nerve function, and other important bodily functions. Because the choline in egg yolks supports brain development, nutritionists say that pregnant women should start eating the yolks!

Chamomile

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Bildagentur-online/UIG via Getty Images

Chamomile is a wonderful herb that has been used for nearly 5,000 years to aid a number of health problems. Chamomile contains disease-fighting antioxidants such as terpenoids and flavonoids, which are revered for their natural healing properties.

Chamomile is primarily consumed in tea. Chamomile tea is known to be relaxing and soothing, which makes it the perfect sleep aid. Chamomile helps you get a better sleep, which ultimately helps your cognitive function during the day. Chamomile also serves as a natural remedy for anxiety and depression due to its stress-fighting properties because of the way its scent is carried directly to the brain.

Cherry Tomatoes

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BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Cherry tomatoes are excellent in promoting proper cognitive function, while also combatting depression. Cherry tomatoes and other bright red or orange fruits and veggies like them get their coloring from an organic pigment called a carotenoid.

Carotenoids have been known to boost cognitive function and support memory in the long run. Cherry tomatoes also contain lycopene, which is heavily concentrated within the skin of fruits in the tomato family and the cherry variety contains a lot of lycopene. Lycopene is anti-inflammatory which can prevent inflammation that causes depression. So these little guys can also help boost your mood!

Salmon

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Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

You’ve already read that our brains contain a significant amount of fatty acids, so it’s a no-brainer that salmon would help support them. Salmon is rich with omega-3 fatty acids, which serve a multitude of health benefits.

In relation to brain health, the omega-3s in salmon help your brain function in the most efficient way possible and improve memory. This can help prevent ADHD in children and in the long term, can prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Salmon also contains considerable levels of vitamins A and D, which not only act as antidepressants but also prevents age-related damage in the nervous system.

Walnuts

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Pixabay
Pixabay

A simple walnut can do wonders for the mind! Like salmon, walnuts are also chock full of omega-3s, as well as antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. This makes walnuts a superfood that supports memory, thought processing, and combats depression.

Studies have shown that low levels of omega-3s are factors in behavioral and cognitive disorders, such as depression, so walnuts are a perfectly natural way to prevent those from happening. Those same studies proved that those who suffer from mood disorders due to a lack of omega-3s also inevitably suffer from cognitive decline.

Turmeric

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INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images

You may have seen turmeric pop up as a current dietary trend — and for good reason! Turmeric is a spice you’ll want to incorporate into your diet once you discover the multitude of health benefits that it has to offer.

In terms of your cognitive health, turmeric can boost your brain’s oxygen intake, which not only keeps you alert but also helps your process information clearly. This is because turmeric contains a chemical compound called curcumin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Studies have shown that curcumin is just as effective as Prozac, so the spice can also benefit those suffering from depression.

Spinach

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David Paul Morris/Getty Images
David Paul Morris/Getty Images

There’s a reason spinach is always on a list of foods to eat for healthy diets. The leafy green is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence. Spinach not only can do wonders for the body but imagine what it could do for your mind!

Spinach has been known to slow the aging process, which in turn protects the brain from age-related diseases. Some studies have found that spinach even has the ability to reverse existing damage in the cerebral cortex of those who’ve previously suffered a stroke. Spinach’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties have also been known to alleviate the stressors that cause a decline in cognition and motor skills.

Rosemary

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Loadmaster/Wikipedia
Loadmaster/Wikipedia

Rosemary is an herb that not only dresses up a lot of foods and makes them smell great, but it also can do wonders for brain health. Rosemary contains carnosic acid, which ultimately protects your brain from neurodegeneration.

Carnosic acid helps your braid fight chemical free radicals, which have a hand in causing Alzheimer’s and strokes. Rosemary as an essential oil can also improve your memory. When used in aromatherapy, rosemary essential oil helps people become more alert and improves the quality of your memory. It has also been known to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Kale

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Edwin Remsburg/VW Pics via Getty Images

Kale is another leafy green that is frequently featured in healthy diets. Kale is great for salads, but it also has its place in a variety of smoothies, shakes, and juices. Kale is rich in vitamins K, A, and C which combined with its other nutrients has excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Pregnant women might also want to amp up their kale intake since it is known to boost infant brain development, especially in the womb. This is because Kale contains a considerable amount of folate, which prevents birth defects and supports proper development of the baby’s face and heart.

Coconut Oil

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Public Domain Pictures
Public Domain Pictures

If you aren’t aware of the multitude of benefits that coconut oil has to offer, then prepare to be enlightened. For brain health, in particular, coconut oil contains a compound called MCT, which stands for medium-chain triglycerides.

When MCT is digested, the liver creates ketones that act as readily accessible energy for your brain. The brain creates its own insulin for power brain cells, but this is not the case for Alzheimer’s patients. Brains afflicted with Alzheimer’s can’t produce their own insulin, so the ketones created by MCT in coconut oil can help repair brain function.

Swiss Chard

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Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Swiss chard is a lovely, colorful leafy green that is dense with nutrients. Part of what gives swiss chard its vibrant red color is betalain, which is the nutrient in the plant that helps support a healthy cognitive function.

The high betalain levels in swiss chard offer protection against oxidative stress-related disorders, which is caused by heavy doses of free radicals. This can lead to a myriad of neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Swiss chard also has antioxidants that prevent brain cell mutation and protect from DNA damage.

Broccoli

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Marta Iwanek/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Marta Iwanek/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Hating on broccoli is child’s play because most people tend to open up to it as they grow older. Combined with choline, the high levels of vitamin K in broccoli do wonders for the mind and keep your memory sharp.

This is because vitamin K is essential in preventing blood clots, which decreases your chances of having a stroke. And in case you didn’t know, just one cup of broccoli amounts to 150% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, so think about that next time you look to oranges to up your vitamin C intake.

Romaine Lettuce

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Romaine lettuce is a common leafy green that you’re probably used to eating. But many people equate romaine lettuce with that of iceberg lettuce, which has considerably low nutritional value. But you might be surprised to learn that this is not the case for romaine.

If you’re already consuming a decent amount of romaine lettuce, then you’re helping keep dementia at bay while overall supporting your mental functions. Romaine lettuce contains high levels of vitamins A and C, which helps fight free radicals. You don’t want too many free radicals to build up in your body otherwise you’re susceptible to developing a number of health conditions.