The Surprising Financial and Health Benefits of Walking

Walking is an everyday activity for most people, but you probably didn't realize that it comes with many health benefits. According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute's 2012 Urban Mobility Report, the average American commuter spent 38 hours stuck in traffic in 2011. With so much to do and so little time, it's not surprising that many of us continue to use cars out of necessity, habit, and convenience. But even if you can't incorporate walking into your everyday commute, taking a daily stroll is a terrific idea and will greatly benefit your health -- and probably your wallet, too.

Health benefits
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, or PAGs, were first published in 2008 and offer great insights into how we can improve our health by exercising. The PAGs underline the importance of both muscle strengthening and aerobic exercises. Aerobic activities, like walking, get your blood pumping and increase your oxygen intake. Doing so on a frequent basis helps us regulate our weight and, in turn, prevents numerous obesity-related diseases such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Studies have shown that walking also serves as an effective mood booster. Going for a walk is ideal for those of us with existing conditions. Compared with biking and running, a half-hour jaunt around the block doesn't inflict too much stress on our joints and therefore reduces pain and stiffness for people with arthritis. What's more, walking is a simple, cost-effective exercise that requires little more than a sturdy pair of shoes.

Curb your medical bills
While we're on the topic of money, it's worth noting that the U.S. spends between $140 billion and $190 billion treating obesity-related diseases each year. Worse yet, if obesity rates continue to grow at their current pace, researchers predict that these costs could increase by $48 billion to $66 billion each year by 2030. While obesity-related diseases are a huge burden for the U.S. health-care system, individual costs for treating these diseases are also staggering: A 2005 study found that obese individuals spend $2,741 more on health care than individuals who aren't obese. Some workplace wellness programs even include walking courses to encourage healthy behavior in employees -- and if your employer offers incentives for weight loss or fitness, you may even be able to profit off walking. Preventing or addressing obesity by walking will therefore help both your heart and wallet.

How to get started
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 145 million Americans walk on a daily basis. If you're not part of that growing figure, it's never too late to get started. The PAGs recommend that inactive adults increase their level of physical activity gradually. In other words, don't overdo it at the beginning. If you can't remember the last time you broke a sweat, the PAGs state that you should start by walking for five minutes several times a day. Do this about five times a week. Once that gets to be too easy, try walking for 10 minutes at a time, three times a day. Eventually, your goal should be to walk 150 minutes each week. To achieve this goal, the PAGa recommend five half-hour walks each week.

If you're already active, the PAGs recommend that you double your aerobic activity to 300 minutes a week. To avoid what is known as "overuse injury," the PAGs also suggest that we should mix up our aerobic activities. Supplementing your daily walks with laps in the pool or the occasional bike ride diminishes the risk of this particular kind of injury caused by doing too much of the same exercise, and it will also break up the tedium of doing the same thing every day.

Don't go at it alone
Despite the many benefits associated with going on walks, it can be awfully hard to get off of the couch. Finding a walking partner or group can fix this problem by motivating you to exercise. You don't have to tackle your health alone: Walking with other people from your neighborhood or friend groups will provide you with a solid support system. Walking regularly can help you lose weight and reduce your health costs. The only thing you might end up gaining is a new friend or two.

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