Walking is simple, free and one of the easiest ways to become healthier and, since May is National Walking Month, it’s a great time to start. A brisk daily walk has a positive impact on the body, both physically and mentally, and counts towards your 150 minutes of weekly exercise recommended by the World Health Organisation.
How does staying active benefit your health?
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with developing a variety of health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer and musculoskeletal disorders.
Keeping active helps the musculoskeletal system support your body, maintain posture and protect vital organs, ensuring that they work at an optimal level.
Evidence suggest that there are other significant benefits to walking, some of which are listed below:
- Improves cardiovascular fitness: walking increases your heart rate helping to pump oxygen around your body. According to the British Heart Foundation, regular physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease by up to 35%
- Strengthens bones: weight-bearing activities help to improve bone density. It’s estimated that 50% of women and 20% of men over the age of 50 years will have an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point in the future
- Maintains a healthy weight: walking increases your metabolism, and a brisk walk of 3mph can burn up to 100 calories in 30 minutes
- Increases muscle power and endurance: sarcopenia is the natural process of age-related muscle loss. After the age of 30 you begin to lose as much as 3-5% of your muscle mass per decade. Walking just one step uses 200 muscles, which helps to slow this process
- Improves balance and coordination: walking is a great way to challenge the brain, which is responsible for controlling all our movements and senses required for balance
- Boosts immune function: walking speeds up the cells in your immune system that fight off bacteria. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less
- Improves mental health: exercise causes the body to release endorphins, which is a feel-good hormone that also helps to reduce pain, acting similarly to opiate-based medication
How can I get started with my walking routine?
Before you start your walking routine, remember to choose suitable clothing such as comfortable footwear that provides adequate support. Make sure you wear visible clothing if you are planning to walk when it is dark. If you are planning longer walks you may want to take some water, put on sunscreen and a sun hat.
Consider your environment, choose a course that is safe and within your capabilities. Before you exercise, do a warm-up to prepare your body and after, perform a warm-down to accelerate the recovery process.
How can I stay motivated?
The easiest way to walk more is to incorporate it into your daily routine. Starting a walking programme takes initiative and sticking with it takes commitment. These are few ideas to help you stay motivated:
- Set yourself up for success (start at a comfortable level then gradually increase your walking distance as you become stronger)
- Make walking enjoyable (take your dog for a walk, listen to music etc)
- Vary your routine (plan routes over different terrain, walk at different times of the day, find a change of scenery)
- Make it a habit (use the stairs instead of the lift, make it a routine after every meal)
- Persist with your routine (don’t give up if you miss a day and try to get back on track)
- Track your progress (record your results so you can see your achievements, show your friends and family, set new goals to challenge your body to improve)
Every journey starts with a single step
Make walking part of your life! Consider other lifestyle choices that can be made to lead a better quality of life, such as stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, eating a healthy balanced diet, strength training and reducing stress. There are a wide range of services that can help; contact your local GP or search for support groups online. Support can also be found through family and friends.
Once you take that first step, you're on the way to better health!
Published on 18 May 2020