Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise, and at the same time, it is really good for you. Best of all, it is suitable for people of all ages and levels of fitness.
It can be done almost anywhere and in any type of weather, given that you may need weatherproof clothing in the UK at some times of the year.
Walking as an exercise is recommended by the government, and the NHS has set up a 10,000 steps a day challenge that is achievable by most people.
Why not give it a go?
Starting along the walking trail
With all the modern conveniences that have been introduced into our daily lives, our lifestyles are becoming increasingly sedentary. We have all heard that exercise is good for us, but some struggle to take those first steps towards the gym, sports court or whatever our chosen sport dictates.
With walking for health, the first steps have already been taken as we do it all the time, every day, so all you need to do is to increase the number of steps to feel the benefits of walking.
Although strolling is better than nothing, to get the most benefit from walking, it is necessary to elevate your speed to the level of a moderate intensity exercise, in order to increase your heart rate and respiration.
What distance will give me a noticeable benefit?
It is generally understood that the average adult in the UK walks about 3000 to 4000 steps per day. You can walk 1000 steps in around 10 minutes, so although the 10,000 steps a day challenge by the NHS may seem like a lot in one go, if you break it up into bite-sized chunks, then it really is achievable.
Those steps add up to 4-5 miles a day, depending on your stride length. It has been calculated that a 45 year old weighing 70 kg can burn around 400 kcal by briskly walking 10,000 steps, at about 3-5 miles per hour.
The government guidelines go for a slightly lower recommendation of walking for health of 30 minutes a day for 5 days of the week.
The health benefits of walking
Power walking is an aerobic exercise. It increases both our heart rate and our breathing rate and so strengthens the heart and lungs, and boosts the circulatory system delivering oxygen to our muscles.
These changes are responsible for the energising feeling that we experience after walking for a while. Through movement of our upper and lower body, walking also increases muscle strength and endurance, and in turn, all of these lead to an increased level of fitness. Because walking burns more calories than sitting down, it aids in weight loss, and the faster you walk, the more calories you will burn.
Needless to say, actual weight loss will only take place if you control the amount of calories you are eating over the same day. You may even experience some weight gain, as fat turns to muscle, which is denser and therefore heavier. However, you will notice a difference in how tight your clothes feel, as the centimetres drop off.
The health benefits of walking are not only in the realms of fitness. There are other positives too.
Walking has an impact on the greatest health challenges in the UK at the moment – it helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol, diabetes and coronary heart disease. It is excellent for maintaining bone strength and aids in the protection against bone diseases, such as osteoporosis.
Furthermore, while walking out in the open air, you can build up your levels of vitamin D when the sun is shining. Do try to walk in areas where pollution levels are low, so that you are breathing in the freshest of air.
Exercise helps boosts your mood, through the release of endorphins and has been shown to be as effective for mild depression as medicines. For those suffering from depression, motivation can be a difficult thing. However, walking is easy to start and can give a much needed boost, with or without accompanying drugs. Even for those who are just feeling a little anxious or have a stressful working environment, walking for health, as an exercise first thing in the morning, at lunch time or at the end of the day, can help put things into perspective.
Just the fact that you are getting out there and achieving something (10,000 steps) on a daily basis can help build self-esteem, which is another of the benefits of walking.
Interestingly, it is thought that exercise, and particularly walking, helps to protect against dementia. Studies have shown that older people who walk over 6 miles a week have more preserved memory. This is yet another great motivator, should you still need one.
Walking for health can help reduce pain caused by joint illnesses, as flexing of joints stimulates circulation to the damaged areas. As walking is a low impact exercise, it is less likely to cause further injury than other higher impact exercises. It also places less stress on the body, and particularly spinal discs, than running.
For the body conscious, the benefits of walking can be seen in tighter and more toned legs, bums and tums. It helps to drain fluid from the lower legs and therefore goes a long way towards preventing varicose veins. The increased respiration also aids in the removal of toxins from the body.
Walking as an exercise really is for most people. Even if you have severe joint issues, you can benefit by walking in water (aquawalking), where the majority of your body weight is supported.
Finally, if you are still not convinced, it is free, convenient and may help you reduce travel and fuel costs.
How to build walking for health into a daily routine
It is easy to boost the amount of walking you do in a day, even without putting on your walking gear. One thing to consider however is wearing the right shoes, especially important if you’re out running to ensure that your feet and ankles are fully protected.
Try getting off the bus one stop early, walking to the shops or walking the children to school, instead of driving them. Alternatively, take the stairs to the office or flat instead of taking the lift. If you work at home, try increasing the number of steps you take while doing regular things around the house such as putting the washing on the line or even while you are ironing. Vacuum cleaning is, of course, great exercise!
If you need some motivation to get out and walk, try finding a walking buddy or join a walking group that meets on a regular basis. For the loners out there, try an MP3 player with inspirational music, audiobooks or podcasts.
If you can’t fit into a regular program, a pedometer or fitness tracker is a great investment, so that you can compete against yourself or others out there on the net. These devices are becoming smarter by the month and can record all sorts of information, to challenge you to go that bit faster or further while also mapping your walk.
If you’re looking for inspiration when walking and want something different than a quick few laps around the estate then Walk 4 Life have a host of walks on their website with varying criteria from the terrain to the length of the walk.
The best way to keep motivating yourself to walk is to make it a habit. Find yourself a regular route of a set distance of, say, 2 or 4 miles, that you know you can walk around in a certain period of time. Then it can become like clockwork - you just step out of your door when you have some free time and you are off.