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Walking, the Wonder Drug

Updated on March 29, 2020
James W Siddall profile image

Dr. Siddall is an outdoor enthusiast, author, and activist. He has traveled widely and enjoys sharing his adventures with the public.

Hippocrates ( c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC), the Greek physician often referred to as the "Father of Western Medicine" advised that “walking is the best medicine.” Research has born out the science of this drug free prescription for a long healthy life. In the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Walking is "the closest thing we have to a wonder drug."

Benefits of Walking

Surveys show that nearly 50 percent of adults walk for transportation, exercise, or relaxation. Medically, those who walk on a regular basis live longer and enjoy many physical and mental health advantages over sedentary individuals. Below is a list of the benefits associated with walking reported by health and fitness researchers:

Physical Benefits

  • Improves energy
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Helps manage weight
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, and dementia

Psychological Benefits

  • Stabilizes mood
  • Releases endorphins
  • Improves sleep
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Improves memory
  • Increases enjoyment and connection to the natural world

Amount of Exercise

Many Americans are overweight and do not meet the CDC guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. The typical American walks between one and two miles per day or 3000 to 4000 steps. This is less than half of the 5 miles per day or 10,000 steps some fitness experts recommend. However, rather than an arbitrary number, the distance you need to walk should be based specifically on your personal fitness goals.

Clearly more exercise yields greater health benefit. But, even a modest increase in activity can help counterbalance the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Just a short 15-20 minute daily walk can provide measurable health benefits.

I suggest that you determine your baseline activity (current steps per day) and gradually increase the distance until you can measure progress toward your goal (i.e.weight loss or lower resting pulse or blood pressure). Once you have reached your walking goals, you can transition to a weekly maintenance schedule.

As an example, my current maintenance regime includes thirty minutes daily aerobic walking/hiking. This amount of walking allows me to maintain my weight and stamina. For variety and additional strengthening you can add a weighted back pack or hand weights. For a more challenging workout you can alternate walking days with weight training.


Extensive warm up exercises for a modest walking program are seldom necessary unless you suffer from specific joint, muscle, or balance problems. In my case, without any medical issues, I perform a few minutes of simple joint rotations (wrist, ankle, hip) and stretches (calf, thigh, quad). Then, I begin to walk slowly and gradually increase my speed until I reach my target pace. Using this method, I have not suffered any walking related injuries or ill effects nor do most other walkers of my acquaintance.


Gear can be simple and inexpensive or complex and hi tech. My own preference favors the middle ground; good quality equipment and a walking-fitness tracker or smart phone app which includes a pedometer and a variety of health metrics. This technology generates a convenient daily log of objective fitness data. My typical walking gear includes:

  1. A good quality walking shoe with a gel sole
  2. Wicking clothes worn in layers, appropriate to the climate
  3. Hat, sun shade, neck protector, scarf,or bandanna
  4. Walking staff
  5. Water, snack, sunscreen
  6. Cell phone, walking or hiking/ pedometer app to track your daily progress.


A modest walking program can substantially improve your physical and psychological health without the need for an athletic trainer, joining a gym, learning a new sport, or purchasing expensive equipment. Research has born out the science of this drug free prescription for improving health and extending life. People who walk regularly enjoy improved fitness, strength, stamina, mood stability, and increased immunity and resistance to disease.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 James W Siddall


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