Mind Your Body: Walk This Way

No need to envy marathoners. Walking is just as good for your mind and body.

By Mina Shaghaghi, published on November 1, 2009 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

A Mighty Heart

Biking and rowing may get your heart racing, but a low-intensity stroll in the park five to six times a week is actually more effective in preventing obesity and eliminating heart risk factors including insulin sensitivity, total cholesterol, and blood pressure. Walkers trimmed their waistlines more and shed more weight.

A Walk to Remember

Walking improves memory. Subjects who walked on a treadmill were better at correctly identifying which numbers were repeated in a series of digits read aloud. Walking also improves attention, bolstering your ability to ignore distractions—probably because walking activates brain regions associated with attention.

A Spring in Your Step

Your gait reflects your emotional state: Sad people walk slower and take shorter steps than people who are angry or joyful, and push off less with their calves with each step. By assessing speed, heavyfootedness, stride length, and arm swinging, observers can also identify sadness, anger, happiness, and pride.

Don't Talk the Talk

Half of all pedestrians on phones engage in dangerous road-crossing behavior, crossing when cars approach and pausing at the roadside when traffic comes to a standstill. Talking on the phone requires active engagement, drawing your focus away from your environment.

I'll Walk How She's Walking

A woman's walk correlates with her ability to reach orgasm. By observing stride length, fluidity of movement, and hip swaying, sexologists were 82 percent accurate in picking out women who could reach vaginal orgasm, according to a study in The Journal of Sex Medicine. Their tell? Orgasmic women had "free, unblocked energetic flow from the legs through the pelvis." As for men, you can often tell their sexual orientation by their walk, according to a study at UCLA. Gay men sway their hips, while straight men swagger—as do lesbians.

Unmistaken Identity

We can identify friends by their walk. Observers did better than chance at identifying themselves and acquaintances by observing speed, rhythm, bounciness, arm swing, and length of steps.

Walkers with Walkers

How fast you move is influenced by unconscious factors. When elderly people were primed with positive-aging words ("wise," "astute"), they walked 9 percent faster.

Advice for the Ambler

Walking is an art. How to get the most out of your stride:

Make the grade. If you want to burn fat, incorporate an incline. Whether you're outdoors or on a treadmill, choose a hilly route.

Eyes on the prize. Keep your eyes forward, trained on a spot roughly 20 feet in front of you. Keep your chin parallel to the ground to minimize strain on your neck and back.

Posture, posture. To get the ideal posture, try shrugging once, then let your shoulders fall to a comfortable position.

All about the arms. Your arms deserve as much attention as your legs, since arm speed determines leg speed. Bend your arms 90 degrees to create a pendulum motion as you speed up your step.

Roll with it. Strike with the heel, roll through the step, and give a good push off with your back foot. To walk faster, don't lengthen your stride; rather, increase the number of small steps you take.