April 22, 2022

Get your walking shoes on and discover the many benefits of walking.

Health experts often recommend walking as a safe, gentle exercise that burns calories and strengthens the heart, blood vessels, lungs, muscles and bones. Of course, some of the benefits of walking include the obvious: increasing your heart rate, lowering blood sugar and easing joint pain. Walking frequently can boost your mental health and mood. If that’s not enough to motivate you to lace up your walking shoes, here are 10 less obvious benefits of walking:

1. Investing in friendship.

Having a walking date with a buddy makes it more likely that you’ll stick to your walking schedule. But it also turns exercise into social time, face-to-face interaction in an all-too-digital world. Conversation can wander as far as your feet do. (During the COVID-19 pandemic, if you and your walking buddy are not both fully vaccinated, it’s best to wear masks if you are not keeping at least 6 feet of distance between you.)

2. Meeting your neighbors.

Even strolling solo, getting out on your local streets means getting to know the local faces. Who’s out there walking dogs? Who bikes with their kids? Who likes gardening projects? OK, maybe I’m just nosy. But this familiarity contributes to a greater sense of community, which in turn fuels a greater sense of well-being.

3. Quality time with the dog (or kids, or spouse).

If you have a dog, you’re probably already doing laps around the block. Try lengthening the walk, varying your route or adding a short stop at a dog park. The extra exercise is good for both of you. As for kids and significant others, in our busy lives sometimes we have to deliberately carve out time for long conversations. Even a 20-minute stroll after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon provides a moment to connect in person with loved ones, without distractions.

4. Much-needed solitude.

If, on the other hand, you’re craving alone time, literally walk away from everyone for a while. Use walking as a form of self-care. Step outside, and wear sunglasses and earbuds to signal to the world that you are not available. Wander until you’ve recaptured some serenity.

5. Catching up on “reading.”

Walking to the beat of your favorite music boosts energy, but walking also provides time to savor good audiobooks, a solution to a bookworm’s problem of not having enough time to read. You can listen to audiobooks on your smartphone, downloaded with commercial apps such as Amazon’s Kindle, or by borrowing audio files from the public library. Check with your library about the app it uses to deliver the files to your phone.

6. Saving the planet.

If the supermarket, post office, ATM, etc., aren’t too far from home, try running errands on foot occasionally. Better still, can you walk to work? Consider this a way to reduce your carbon footprint while leaving actual ones.

7. Beating the afternoon blahs.

That mid-afternoon energy slump tends to send us searching for chemical pick-me-ups like soda, coffee or sugar. Taking a quick break to stretch your legs will perk you up without a sugar crash later. A vigorous walk (think uphill or up a flight of stairs), a few stretches and listening to some upbeat music for even 10 minutes will help get you past that groggy feeling.

8. Walking is the first step toward running.

There’s no rule saying everyone must be a runner. But if you’re trying to find your inner jogger, a good walking habit lays the groundwork for a future running habit. As you increase walking speed and distance, you’ll gain stamina. Later you can start jogging short sections of your walking route and work up from there. A popular program for easing into running is Couch to 5K. And if you’re a runner recovering from illness or injury, walking is a gentle way to keep active until your body is ready to return to the more strenuous demands of jogging.

9. Helping a good cause.

Many Southern cities host 5K and 10K races that raise money for nonprofit groups. Most allow walkers. Google the name of your city and 5Ks or 10Ks and you’ll likely find a list of races that benefit charity causes. Maybe even find some running clubs to share your goal with other like-minded people. Preparing for a walk of this distance is great motivation to walk most days, and you’ll see your stamina grow quickly.

10. Getting to know your city’s natural beauty.

Walking your own neighborhood may be the most convenient choice, but in many Southern cities, there are gorgeous parks, trails and other green spaces for exploring on foot. Especially in spring and fall — when the weather is most comfortable —  enjoy walking these beautiful Tennessee places.

No matter where you walk, wear supportive shoes that are appropriate for your feet and stride. A good local running or walking store can help you find the best pair for you. Be aware of your surroundings. Use fitness technology if you like tracking your progress. Have fun!