Oh The Places You’ll Go: On the Benefits of Walking

benefits of walking

When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “Life is a journey, not a destination,” one assumes he meant it in a philosophical sense. Emerson was likely indicating that happiness and contentment are not tied to life’s many benchmarks, but instead are found in the appreciation of life’s day-to-day pleasures.

However, when it comes to the many benefits of walking – whether it’s a work commute, a walk-and-talk meeting with a colleague or a way to avoid splurging on an Uber after an evening work event – that famous quote can also be interpreted literally. Often overlooked in wellness and weight-loss plans, the simple act of walking can give an instant lift to a person’s mental and physical wellbeing – as well as contributing to a happier, more productive set of employees.

Whether it’s lower stress levels, a stronger immune system, or sharper focus at work, it seems there is no benefit to employee wellbeing and productivity that can’t be gained from simply walking more.

By far one of the most effective ways of mobilizing a workforce, walking has the added advantage of being the simplest and most accessible form of exercise for many. Although paying for expensive gym memberships and other voluntary benefits for employees can certainly be beneficial for corporations, for many companies the most straightforward and effective way to inject a new lease of life into their workforce is to simply to incentivize their employees to walk more.

The new “wonder drug”?

Despite the fact that the act of taking steps has been around as long as humanity itself, you may be surprised to hear that Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, called it “the closest thing to a wonder drug we have.”

In the workplace, walking can indeed do wonders. A recent study out of Curtin University in Australia showed that a lunchtime walk had both energizing and relaxing qualities on those who participated. In the afternoon following the midday walk, the study recorded markedly improved energy levels, while the participants reported less stress and a greater sense of tranquillity.

Not only does walking reduce workplace stress, but it can also improve mood. A Portuguese study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research targeted 150 people suffering from depression discovered that those who walked regularly showed improvement in symptoms where medication had not helped. Another study, from a group of U.K. researchers, found that hiking in the great outdoors helped reduce stress and clear the mind. It turns out that “walk it off” isn’t just an empty saying after all.

On a physical health level, the benefits of walking are bonafide. According to a Harvard Medical School study, walking for 150 minutes per week reduced the risk of heart disease by 30%. That’s just 21 minutes of walking per day to ward off a disease responsible for more deaths (611,105 in the U.S. in 2013 alone) than any other cause. At a basic level, daily walks can empower employees to take control of their health, reducing medical absences while engendering a healthier workplace overall.

Anytime, anywhere

Perhaps the best of advantage of walking is that it can be done anywhere, at any time. It is free (or can even save us money), can get us out into nature or in our neighborhoods, and can fit into small blocks of time. Walking empowers employees to do something good for themselves without necessarily committing to a gym membership or bringing a change of clothes to work. Sometimes the easiest solutions are the best. Finally, we can end the article as we end our days: with sleep. In a finding that has been supported by many studies, Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Karen Carlson advocated daily exercise, specifically morning walks, as beneficial to the overall sleep cycle. Exercise increases natural sleep aids like melatonin, resulting in deeper, more fulfilling sleep. With a little walking each day, most will awake refreshed and ready to tackle the next workday.

While there’s no one magic bullet for health, a daily dose of walking may be the closest thing we have. In the time it takes to get everyone into the conference room for the weekly meeting, employees could be reducing stress, improving mood, increasing focus and enabling a healthy night’s sleep.

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