You know that walking is a great exercise, but did you also know it can improve your finances? It’s low impact, doesn’t require specialized equipment, and can be done by almost anyone, almost anywhere. Walking improves both (1) physical and (2) mental health and can in effect save you money on future or current medical expenses. A long-term study from Baptist Health South Florida and validated by the Journal of the American Heart Association showed walking about 2.5 hours a week can save you about $2,500 in medical bills.
Walking is also free to do. But as with any exercise, understanding a few basic tips and tricks will not only help you avoid the risk of injury, but will also increase the benefits to your physical as well as mental health.
Improve financial benefits of walking
If you want to maximize the financial benefits of walking, aim to do it for 30 minutes or more. Don’t worry if you can’t imagine fitting an extra half an hour of walking into your day – 6 5-minute walks will be OK too and will benefit your health just as much. The golden rule for becoming healthier is simple: eat better/less and exercise more. So just walk more each week, ideally around 2.5 hours a week for the most financial benefits.
Studies show that people with pre-existing conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression who walked around 2 to 3 hours per week started to gradually improve their health, and were soon saving about $2,000 to $3,000 on their medical expenses.
It is not that difficult to free up some time. Replace five minutes of sitting with five minutes of walking and you’ll benefit from it – in your pocket book as well from lower current and future medical costs.
If you walk 30 minutes per day, you can burn plus or minus a couple hundred calories per day per the Harvard School of Public Health as well as lower your blood pressure by several points. Of course the exact amount depends on the pace, your weight, gender, and other factors. The point being, walking burns calories.
Not only can you improve your finances by saving on health care costs, but some companies, health insurers and other organizations will even pay you to walk! There can be cash provided, gift cards, or many health insurance companies as well as corporations will offer lower monthly premiums to those who walk. Read more on making money while you walk.
Don’t get too hung up on the number of paces you take each day. 10,000 paces is fine as something to aim for, but it’s actually a pretty arbitrary number. Any amount of walking is good for you, compared to not moving at all. Even if you walk a few thousand paces in a day, if that is still an increase from what you have been historically doing then that is very beneficial.
It is really simple to get some steps each day. Getting off the bus one stop earlier than usual might not feel like much, but it’s way more beneficial than spending those extra minutes sitting. Or park your car at the back of a parking lot and walk to the store, office, or building you are going to. Or walk about stairs to your office. The point is to just move and get steps in anywhere you can get them from. Just think how easy it is to save a few thousands dollars, per year, on your health care costs.
Your posture is important. Regular walking can help to correct some postural problems, but if you’re not aware of the common issues then you won’t get as much benefit. People who spend their working lives sitting at a desk tend to slump forwards. If you sit looking at a screen for hours, the chances are that your shoulders are pulling forwards and together and that your head is held forward of your torso.
Keeping this hunched, leaning-forward posture while you’re walking will not only make it more likely you’ll get backache (and add to future chiropractor costs!,), it will decrease the amount of oxygen you’re able to take in, making you feel tired rather than energized.
If your posture is correct, your ears, your shoulders and your hips should be in a vertical line with each other. The easiest way to achieve this is to imagine that there’s a string attached to the crown of your head (the place on your skull directly opposite from your chin). Now picture that string pulling you upwards.
If your posture isn’t correct, you’ll feel your head going back and up and your chin tucking down slightly. If your posture has been wrong for a while, you’ll also feel your abdominal muscles tighten. That’s a great sign – it means that the weight of your upper body is now being supported by your core rather than your spinal muscles.
It’s easy to get back into bad habits, so while you’re walking, imagine that string pulling you upwards again. You’ll almost certainly notice that your movements immediately become easier. Doing this correction while moving will help your core muscles to work effectively and help form “muscle memory” of your improved posture.
The other common fault while walking is to use your front foot to pull you onwards rather than using your back foot to push you. From a mechanical point of view it’s more efficient to swing your leg forwards while pushing yourself with the foot that’s on the ground, rather than putting your leg forwards, planting it, and then using that leg to pull your weight.
Again, there’s an easy way to correct this. Imagine someone placing their hand on the base of your spine and gently pushing you forwards. This doesn’t mean that you walk in an exaggerated pelvis-first style – simply picture very gentle pressure against the base of your spine and you’ll naturally push off with your back foot.
You don’t need to walk quickly in order to get health benefits or save thousands of dollars per year. You might be tempted to walk so briskly that you get out of breath, believing that this is better exercise. Of course there are cardiovascular benefits from exercise that raises your heart rate and leaves you breathing heavily, but power-walking is more likely to increase your risk of injury. If you can walk at a faster pace, then go for it – but it is not required.
The thousands of people studied by the Journal of the American Heart Association showed walking just at a moderate pace also lead to improved health, and better mental and physical health leads to lower medical bills. Those in the study, who walked at a moderate pace only a couple hours per week, also started to have medical costs $1,000 or less then others who did not walk.
Unless you’ve already got excellent technique, walking quickly means that you’ll stiffen your legs, reducing your body’s natural shock absorbing capacity and increasing the risk of long-term damage. Walking briskly is therefore not required.
Finally, don’t worry about your arms. Pumping elbows are completely unnecessary. Again, this is a walk, not a race. If you picture yourself being drawn upwards from the crown of your head and propelled forward by a tiny push against the bottom of your spine, you’ll find that your arms will naturally swing freely.
Once your core muscles are engaged, they’ll move the top half of your body to provide a counterbalance to your legs, and your arms will move with your torso. In other words, it should be the movement of your upper body causing your arms to move, and definitely not the other way around.
Walk for your health – mental and physical
Walking is an excellent exercise for both physical and mental health. In fact, a few hours of walking per week can reduce chances of depression by up to 50% as shown from multiple studies, including from Queensland University of Technology. It improves your heart and weight. Walking also slows down mental decline and it can even prevent or reverse aging of the brain per studies from NeuroImage, Harvard and other organizations. All of those health benefits (and others) lead to significant financial benefits.
It is also great for your household budget, as it can save you money on healthcare costs, walking is free to do, and as noted above you can even get paid to walk. But you’ll gain the greatest health benefits if you correct your posture, push rather than pull yourself forward, don’t try to walk too quickly and allow your upper body to move your arms rather than swinging them deliberately.