You’ve probably heard of a runner’s high before, but did you know that walking can give you a walker’s high? As you log miles your brain releases “happy” chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, that can lift your mood both during and after your workout. Walking outside has also been shown to lower rates of depression more effectively than walking indoors.
Walking releases a protein called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Some experts refer to BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for the brain” because it encourages the growth of new brain cells, which can help ward off memory loss and dementia.
As you walk, your heart beats faster and pumps more blood. Over time, as your heart becomes able to pump more blood with less effort, your blood pressure levels will decrease. In one University of Tennessee study, post-menopausal women who walked just 2 miles per day saw their blood pressure levels decrease by 11 points. (For more easy ways to improve your heart health, don’t miss these 13 ways to lower blood pressure naturally.)
A regular walking regimen can lower your risk of having a heart attack by 35%, according to an analysis of 18 studies.
A regular exercise routine can lower your chances of developing lung cancer by up to 30%. It can even offer some protection for smokers. And for those with asthma or other lung diseases, walking can help reduce the severity of symptoms.
Unlike biking or swimming, walking is a weight-bearing activity. The light impact can help strengthen your bones, protecting you from osteoporosis and fractures.
Walking tells your muscles to release a fat-burning hormone called irisin. Scientists say it appears to reprogram fat cells to burn energy instead of storing it, increasing metabolic rate, and converting low-calorie-burning white fat cells into higher-calorie-burning brown fat cells—all changes that can make weight loss easier.
Exercise doesn’t just make your skin sweaty, it can also make your skin look younger by increasing the production of collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.
When you walk outside, you’re exposing your bare skin to sunlight, which prompts the body to make vitamin D, a nutrient up to 75% of American adults don’t get enough of. (And yes, this is still the case if you’re wearing SPF—which you should be doing, by the way!) Vitamin D deficiencies are associated with numerous health concerns, including an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, rickets, and prostate cancer, so getting outside for a daily walk is a great way to protect your health.