The health benefits of walking

The health benefits of walking

Are you one of the many people who have taken up walking as a way of keeping active? Not only is walking good for your physical and mental health, but it’s free, easy, and convenient too. It can also be a great way to explore your local area and is better for the environment than driving or taking public transport. Here I’ll explain the health benefits of walking and share my top tips for getting started.

What are the benefits of walking?

Walking and spending time in nature can have a huge range of benefits for both your physical and mental well-being.

Mental health benefits

Exercise releases feel-good hormones, and studies have shown it can:

  • improve your mood
  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • improve memory and problem-solving
  • help you sleep better
  • Increase your energy
  • help you to cope with difficult times
  • improve your confidence and self-esteem
  • reduce the risk of depression

Physical health benefits

As well as boosting your mental health and wellbeing, walking can also benefit your physical health. For example, it can help you to:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • keep your muscles and bones healthy
  • improve your heart and cardiovascular fitness
  • maintain good balance

It can also reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions, including:

  • cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and stroke
  • type 2 diabetes
  • sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea
  • some cancers such as bladder and breast cancer

How much walking should I do?

In the UK it is recommended that adults get active every day. You should aim to do at least two and a half hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. You can break this down into sessions of 10 minutes or more and spread this out across the week. Moderate intensity means:

  • your breathing is faster
  • your heart rate is faster
  • you feel warmer

Walking can count towards moderate-intensity exercise - so long as it’s brisk (about 80 steps per minute).

Walking every day for at least 10 minutes can boost your physical fitness and the more days you can do this, the better. However, a recent study suggests that walking 8000 brisk steps for one to two days a week is enough to gain some of the health benefits of walking.

How can I get started with walking for exercise?

The good news is you don’t have to climb mountains to feel the benefits of walking. You can start slowly and gradually increase how much you’re doing each week. Think about your daily routine and where you can include some walking. You could try:

  • Take a walk before work – especially if you’re working from home
  • walking to work, the train station, or bus stop if you need to travel to your place of work
  • Use your lunch break to go for a stroll
  • going to the shops on foot rather than taking the car
  • walking with another person or group of people to keep you motivated to go for a walk
  • listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks while you walk
  • setting yourself a daily step goal and tracking your steps using a fitness tracker, app, or pedometer
  • Use a walking app to help you discover new routes in your local area

In what ways can you step up your walking routine?

Have you started a regular walking routine and want to make it more interesting? Why not try some different ways of walking to help keep you engaged with exercise and boost your cardiovascular fitness? Here are some ideas you could try on your next walk.

  • Pace counts. Monitor your walking pace and set pace-related goals to track your progress and keep you motivated. You can do this by using a walking app.
  • An interval-training walk. You could try doing short periods of walking at a faster pace. For example, try adding 15-30-second intervals of speed walking to your normal walk, giving yourself as much recovery time as you need.
  • Walking poles. You can use walking poles to help with balance and engage your arms and upper body during your walk.
  • Meditative walking. Try to be present during your walk by paying attention to your surroundings. You could also practice breathing exercises to help manage stress. For example, match your footsteps with your breathing patterns - take four steps as you inhale and four steps as you exhale.

Make sure to wear a comfortable pair of shoes or trainers that provide adequate support. It’s also important to wear weather-appropriate clothing and keep hydrated. You can start small and find a rhythm that works for you – any exercise is better than none.

The health benefits of walking
Kian Proactive June 23, 2024
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