The Surprising Financial and Health Benefits of Walking

Health Insurance

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Walking is an everyday activity for most people, but you probably didn’t realize that walking comes with many health benefits. According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2012 Urban Mobility Report, the average American commuter spent 38 hours stuck in traffic in 2011. Despite hours of headache-inducing traffic, many of us continue to use cars out of necessity, habit, and convenience. With so much to do and so little time, it’s not surprising that someone would select the fastest method of transportation to, say, buy more milk. That said, the positive effects of walking are undeniable. Even if you can’t incorporate walking into your everyday commute, taking a daily stroll is a terrific idea and will greatly benefit your health, and probably your wallet, too.

Health benefits

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, or PAG, were first published in 2008 and offer great insights into how we can improve our health by exercising. The PAG underline the importance of both muscle strengthening and aerobic exercises. Aerobic activities – like walking – get your blood pumping and increase your oxygen intake. Doing this frequently helps us regulate our weight and, in turn, prevents numerous obesity-related diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Studies have shown that walking also serves as an effective mood booster. Going for a walk is ideal for those of us with existing conditions. Compared to biking and running, a half-hour jaunt around the block doesn’t inflict too much stress on our joints and therefore actually reduces pain and stiffness for people with arthritis. What’s more, walking is a simple, cost-effective exercise that requires little more than a sturdy pair of shoes.

Curb your medical bills

While we’re on the topic of money, it’s worth noting that the U.S. spends between $140 and $190 billion on treating obesity-related diseases each year. Worse yet, if obesity rates continue to grow at their current pace, researchers predict that these costs could increase by $48 to $66 billion each year by 2030. While obesity-related diseases are a huge burden for the U.S. health care system, individual costs for treating these diseases are also staggering: a 2005 study found that obese individuals spend $2,741 more on health care than individuals who aren’t obese. Some workplace wellness programs even include walking courses to encourage healthy behavior in employees—and if your employer offers incentives for weight loss or fitness, you may even be able to profit off of walking. Preventing or addressing obesity by walking will therefore help both your heart and wallet.

How to get started

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 145 million Americans walk on a daily basis. If you’re not part of that growing figure, it’s never too late to get started. The PAG recommend that inactive adults gradually increase their level of physical activity. In other words, don’t overdo it at the beginning. If you can’t remember the last time you broke a sweat, the PAG state that you should start by walking for five minutes several times a day. Do this about five times a week. Once that gets to be too easy, try walking for ten minutes at a time, three times a day. Eventually, your goal should be to walk 150 minutes each week. To achieve this goal, the PAG recommend five half-hour walks each week.

If you’re already active, PAG recommend that you double your aerobic activity to 300 minutes a week. To avoid what is known as “overuse injury,” PAG also suggest that we should mix up our aerobic activities. Supplementing your daily walks with laps in the pool or the occasional bike ride diminishes the risk of this particular kind of injury caused by doing too much of the same exercise, and will also break up the tedium of doing the same thing every day.

Don’t go at it alone

Despite the many benefits associated with going on walks, it can be awfully hard to get off of the couch. Finding a walking partner or group can fix this problem by motivating you to exercise. You don’t have to tackle your health alone: walking with other people from your neighborhood or friend groups will provide you with a solid support system. Walking regularly can help you lose weight and reduce your health costs. The only thing you might end up gaining is a new friend or two.

Woman walking image via Shutterstock.