Before I put forward my case for why you should start walking more, I’m going to be honest: I never used to care much for walking, in fact, I’d go as far to say that I used to dislike it.
That was before I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Back then, I simply didn’t see the point. Why walk when you can just go for a light jog, fast run, or sprint? Don’t they burn more calories anyway? As it turns out, there are plenty of good reasons to walk over other forms of activity. Let’s take a deeper look into it.
Firstly, walking is probably the most primal movement we can do as humans. Throughout evolution, it has been our primary movement pattern. It was used to hunt, stalk, commute, and ultimately to survive. It is a key characteristic of human behaviour. We are literally designed to walk, not only from a biomechanics standpoint, but our primal physiology has evolved doing it.
These days, as somebody living with type 1 diabetes, walking plays an enormous role in my daily routine. I walk as much as possible every single day. It has proven to be a form of medication that I can freely and happily administer myself, and the effects are almost immediate.
On a personal level, since adding walking to my routine, my diabetes management has improved beyond belief. I walk to commute, I walk my dog, I walk on active rest days and I walk before and after meals. Walking after carb-containing meals has proven to be the most effective method for regulating my blood sugar levels. It allows me to take less insulin for a given amount of carbs, I’m able to metabolise the sugars without a spike, my body fat percentage has reduced, and I’ve held on to precious muscle mass. I don’t force myself to do it - I’ve genuinely grown to love it. Despite being mindful about all the different health benefits of walking, I simply love how it makes me feel.
9 reasons why you should walk more
1. Walking Regulates Post-meal Blood Sugar Levels
Walking after meals (especially carb-containing meals) is a great way to minimise the blood sugar spike (10-15 minutes is all it takes).
2. Walking Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Walking (like other forms of exercise) opens the gateway to the muscle cells which allows sugar from the bloodstream to get soaked up without the need for a large insulin spike. Smaller spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels is a recipe for long-term health.
3. Walking Lowers Cortisol Levels
Walking lowers the stress hormone cortisol which not only makes you feel more relaxed, but it also mitigates the negative effects of cortisol on insulin sensitivity. Yes, being stressed can make you more insulin resistant - but don’t stress, just walk it off.
4. Walking Lowers Blood Pressure
It has an effect on your endothelium (the cells of your arteries) which promotes the release of nitric oxide, ultimately making your arteries less tiff and more relaxed. So I guess you could say walking makes you and your vessels more relaxed.
5. Walking Stimulates Nerves
Walking stimulates nerve endings under your feet which not only feels amazing, it’s good for them! Think back to your first steps on a sandy beach for the summer. It is like a sensory overload. Walk in shoes, walk barefoot, walk on grass, sand, or any surface that you like.
6. Walking (Indirectly) Stimulates Vitamin D
Walking can indirectly help you to stimulate vitamin D simply by spending more time outside in the sun. As little as 5-15 minutes of direct sunlight is enough to stimulate Vitamin D, so why not walk in the sun after a carb-containing meal. Spending time in nature has many other health benefits.
7. Walking Helps You Spend More Time in Nature
Spending time outdoors (especially when you’re surrounded by greenery) has been proven to be beneficial for one’s physiological and psychological wellbeing. Get out of the city. Go for a walk along a coastline or through a national park where the air is cleaner. Don’t forget to enjoy the views while you’re there. Your eyes and lungs will thank you later.
8. Walking Burns Body Fat
Walking helps you to burn some extra body fat. The level of intensity of a stroll or brisk walk is not high enough to deplete a large amount of glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate in muscle) but it certainly sends a message to your body to ramp up fat metabolism. It may not get you ‘stage-ready’ but it will certainly burn off some extra fluff.
9. Walking Releases Endorphins
Research has shown that walking releases endorphins flooding you with feel-good vibes. But science aside - you can’t argue with feeling good.
Can a Long Walk Replace a Gym Session?
The short answer is yes and no. No, in that the benefits of walking are acuter than those of a gym session. A gym-style workout has ongoing benefits that last for as long as 24-48 hours. These include increased rates of fat burning, increased rates of protein synthesis and improved insulin sensitivity. Walking won’t strengthen your tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue to the same extent as gym training. It also won’t increase your bone mineral density and it certainly won’t build muscle like a gym session. That doesn’t mean it can’t replace a workout in the gym. If your aim is to improve insulin sensitivity, regulate blood sugar levels, and release endorphins, then yes walking can absolutely replace a gym session. If you can’t make it to the gym, then going for a walk is definitely better than sitting on your bum.
Can Walking Help You Lose Fat?
Walking can definitely help you lose body fat. Not necessarily by the calories it burns or because you’re in the ‘fat burning zone’ (although both of those mechanisms will help you reach a caloric deficit), but mostly because it sensitises your muscle cells to insulin which results in smaller insulin spikes. Insulin is a fat-storing hormone, therefore limiting the frequency and intensity of spikes will result in higher rates of fat burning. As I mentioned earlier, walking also lowers cortisol levels which can aid in fat loss.
Let’s address an old myth while we’re on the topic: 'Walking burns more fat than running.' Walking may burn more fat as a percentage of total energy being burned, but as an absolute amount it simply doesn’t come close. Running burns more total energy. Less may come from fat, and more may come from carb sources (glycogen), but it still burns a larger absolute amount.
How Many Steps Should You Take per Day?
How many steps should you take a day for it to have an impact on your health and fitness? Conventional wisdom suggests to aim for 10,000 steps a day, but I say don’t put a cap on it. Whether you’re currently doing 1,000 or 8,000, any extra steps will have a positive impact on your health. Take me for example: If my blood sugar levels are elevated above the target range, after 5 mins of walking they come down to normal, regardless of how many steps I’ve taken that day. It could be my first 1,000 steps or my 10 thousandth step. The point is…
Your body doesn’t know how many total daily steps you’ve taken before you start reaping the rewards - the health benefits are immediate!
The Take Home Message
Start seeing walking as an essential human movement, not a mathematical equation. Walk slow, fast or briskly. Walk up hills, walk up stairs, or hike through varying terrain. Just move as much as possible on foot. It doesn’t always have to be a structured workout, but rather something that you do as a part of everyday life amongst gym training and any other form of activity that you enjoy.
Tips to Take More Steps a Day
- Park further away. Don’t always look for the rockstar spot.
- Get on the bus a few stops later and get off the bus a few stops earlier.
- Avoid the lift and take the stairs.
- Walk up escalators - don’t just stand there.
- Take up golf.
- Sell your car.
- Get a dog.