Walking is possibly the most under-appreciated and under-utilised form of exercise around. It’s easy, free, convenient, enjoyable, and boasts many health benefits, yet the average Briton walks less than half a mile each day.
The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week for adults aged 19-64. And with “brisk walking” included in the list of suitable exercises, it’s an excellent way to whittle down that quota.
Walking to and from work, round the block, or going out for a post-dinner stroll. The beauty of walking is that it’s relaxing and comes without the fuss of other activities (i.e. you don’t have to worry about warm-ups, warm-downs, and changing your clothes).
Lots of people feel like they don’t have enough time to dedicate to extended periods of walking each day, but often it’s just a matter of priorities. Waking up slightly earlier, reducing the time we spend watching TV, or minimising our social media browsing, can free up precious minutes and hours that we can put towards healthier pursuits.
In the words of Steven Wright, “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” So if you’re not getting in those steps, maybe it’s time to reconsider your relationship with walking. And to help you along the way, we’ve rounded up some top health benefits of a good old fashioned stroll.
Walking could combat Alzheimer’s
According to Cyrus Raji, a radiologist at the University of Pittsburg, “In cognitively normal adults, walking 6 miles a week instead of being sedentary was associated with a 50% reduction in Alzheimer’s risk over 13 years. . . [and] in people with MCI [mild cognitive impairment], walking just 5 miles a week reduced brain atrophy and cognitive decline — by more than 50%.”
Improves mood and increases mental sharpness
There’s been a lot of research conducted into the relationship between mental health and physical exercise. And many authorities agree that regular exercise does have a positive impact on our psychological states.
Dr. Michael C. Miller, member of the Department of Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, puts it in simple enough terms, “There has been a lot of debate about whether exercise is helpful for mood and it turns out that it is.”
Miller says that “in some ways, exercise at a certain level can actually be, for some people, the equivalent to taking an antidepressant.”
The NHS also cites exercise as a means of alleviating symptoms of depression. According to their website, “Regular exercise can boost your mood if you have depression, and it’s especially useful for people with mild to moderate depression.”
The key with exercise, however, is to stay motivated. Which is why walking makes such a good choice. For most of us, it’s much easier to build up the will power to go out for a 40 minute stroll than it is for a 20 minute run. So if you make walking a part of your regular exercise routine, chances are good that you’ll be able to stick to it.
It could help you sleep better
A study comparing two groups of women, one of which walked 4,000 steps a day and the other 10,000 steps, showed that on average the women who walked more rated their overall sleep quality as better than those who walked less.
Another study, this one focussing on dog owners, showed that those who walked up to 9,961 steps per day slept on average 53 minutes longer than those who only walked up to 5,247 steps.
Walking may reduce the risk of several other diseases
According to Bupa, a regular walking routine may help in preventing:
– Cardiovascular disease.
– High cholesterol.
– Coronary heart disease.
Bupa says, “Some research suggests that (expending the same amount of energy) brisk walking is just as effective as running for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.”
It tones the legs
Looking for that extra push on leg day? Go for a brisk walk! Walking, especially in hilly areas, is a great way to strengthen and tone your legs.
The scenery you’ll take in on an outdoor walk can also make a nice change from the four walls of your local gym. This can really help you to stay motivated, and offers a more casual (but still very effective) way to work out.
How to walk: a quick guide
Incorporating more walking into our lives doesn’t have to mean setting aside an hour a day to go hiking. There are lots of ways to get in our daily steps without having to make any major changes to our schedules. Here are a few simple and easy ideas for a more walkable lifestyle:
– Set aside some time on your lunch break to go for a short stroll.
– If it’s close enough, walk to the corner shop instead of driving.
– Where possible, use stairs instead of lifts and escalators.
– Instead of meeting friends and clients in a café, try organising “walking meetings”.
- Get a dog! Or, if a friend or family member has one, ask if you can take it out on a walk now and then.
The FIT Formula
You can also use the FIT Formula (which we first discovered at arthritis.org) to help you figure out your perfect walking routine. It stands for frequency (how often), intensity (how fast), and time (how long).
Frequency: arthritis.org recommends walking at least 3 to 5 times per week, for as long as you feel comfortable.
Intensity: the aim here should be to increase your heart rate and breathing whilst still being able to keep up a conversation.
Time: according to the same advice, 30 minutes to 1 hour should be the ultimate goal of a regular walking routine. However, this doesn’t need to be a starting point. Building up to those intervals is also fine, starting with whatever feels right. Whether it’s five or ten minutes a couple of times a day, whatever gets you motivated and walking is the perfect place to start.
Moving towards better health
There are lots of ways to keep fit and active, and, of course, walking is just one of them. If you’d like to learn more about how exercise can make us healthier, take a look at our blog. Or, as a starting point, why not read How Exercise Can Improve Memory.