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Health Insights Illinois

Let's walk! Take the first step to improve your health

Two black women in their sixties walking together outside

Spring has sprung and now that the days are longer and the temperatures are warmer, there is one simple thing we should all be doing – walking!

Walking is a simple habit with big benefits. Whether you’re walking the dog, walking during your break at work, walking your kid to school, or walking in your local park, every step can improve your mental, physical, and social well-being.

Health benefits of walking

Walking can reduce your risk of developing many common chronic diseases, walking helps to:

  • Reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Prevent and help manage type 2 diabetes (for more on exercising for diabetes, check out this blog)
  • Decrease the risk of developing certain types of cancer
  • Improve bone and joint health
  • Aid in weight maintenance and weight loss

How much do I need to walk?

Aim to walk briskly for 30 minutes each day to produce significant health benefits. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Illinois and the United States. Walking 30 minutes or more each day lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke by 35 percent and your risk of type 2 diabetes is reduced by 40 percent. However, it may be challenging to walk for 30 minutes at the start. Fortunately, new research shows that even short walks can have significant impacts on your health. Just 2,337 steps per day is enough to start reducing your risk of death from heart disease, and every extra 500 steps beyond that further reduces your risk of dying from heart disease by an additional 7 percent. At just 4,000 steps per day, you can start reducing your risk of early death from all causes, and every 1,000 steps beyond that further reduces that risk by 15 percent!

Most phones have pedometer apps you can download for free to track your daily steps, and there are also many options for fitness trackers and smart watches. However, starting to walk your way toward better health requires nothing more than a comfortable pair of shoes. Walking for 10 minutes is equal to about 1,000 steps.  

More benefits of walking

In addition to the physical health benefits, walking is a great way to boost mental health as well. Walking in outdoor spaces, or “green exercise,” can further enhance the mental health benefits of exercise. Walking helps to:

  • Improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Increase energy and feelings of vigor
  • Reduce and help manage stress
  • Enhance cognitive function including memory and problem-solving ability
  • Improve sleep quality

The benefits of walking don’t stop there! Walking can also be used to improve your social well-being. Walking is a great way to spend time with family or friends. You can join a local walking group to meet other people who can help support you and hold you accountable. Research even shows that it can be easier to talk with others when you’re side-by-side rather than face-to-face, so walking next to a friend or family member can be a great way to build and strengthen relationships.

Tips to make walking a habit 

Adding a new habit to your daily routine can be challenging. It may also be difficult to find a safe place to walk. Here are a few tips to help you take the first step in building your walking routine:

  • If you don’t feel safe walking in your neighborhood, consider walking at a nearby park, school, or even inside a mall.
  • Add more steps into your current daily routine. If you usually drive your child to school, consider parking a few blocks away and walking the last few blocks. If you frequently use the bus, consider getting on or off a few stops away to lengthen your walk to or from the bus stop.
  • Start with just 10 minutes, then gradually increase to 30 minutes or more. If you don’t have 30 minutes, going for three 10-minute walks is just as good!
  • Find a way to make your walks enjoyable! We’re much more likely to stick with a habit if we enjoy it. Take in the trees, flowers, and animals on a nice spring day; listen to music or a podcast; walk with a friend or family member (or give someone a call!).

Walking is a simple but powerful habit to improve nearly all aspects of our health and well-being. Remember every step counts when it comes to walking to improve your health. What are you waiting for, let’s walk!   


About the Author: Caitlin Fredericks is a statewide Physical Health Specialist. As part of the Integrated Health Disparities program, she provides education, programs, and resources to reduce health disparities in physical health. She is an ACSM certified personal trainer and an ACE certified group fitness instructor. Caitlin has diverse experience working at the intersection of education and physical activity and is actively collaborating with local coalitions to strengthen our community. The Integrated Health Disparities program tackles health issues with an integrated lens of physical, mental, and community health providing programs and resources to address health inequities.