The great thing about walking is that it’s a simple, free way to exercise, lose weight and become healthier. You can easily build a walk into a busy lifestyle as you can do it pretty much anywhere, at any time – no fees, no time constraints and no need to spend copious amounts on fancy equipment.
Today actually marks National Walk to Work day, an occasion aimed at encouraging people to get out more and reap the mental and physically benefits even just 20 minutes of walking can offer.
We spoke to Dr Eleanor Atkins, Clinical Fellow at Bupa UK, to find out exactly what these benefits are and how you can stay motivated to power walk straight to work or at least get off the tube a few stops early…
1. It keeps you fit
A brisk walk that raises your heart rate, makes you warm and slightly breathless is a great form of aerobic exercise. Doing this regularly helps you to get fitter so you will find it easier to be more active.
In terms of how fast it takes to get fitter through walking, that really depends on your level of fitness to begin with. If you were to add in 150 minutes of brisk walking to your week (split up into manageable sessions), you should notice a difference in how fit you feel in around six weeks, however if you’re already super fit, this will help to maintain your fitness levels rather than increase it.
2. It reduces your risk of health conditions
Walking can help reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and stroke.
In fact some research suggests that expending the same amount of energy brisk walking is just as effective as running for people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
If, however, you are worried about your heart health, it’s best to talk to a doctor before starting a new exercise routine. They’ll be able to advise you on how much exercise you should be taking and how long for.
3. It burns calories
It depends on your weight, but if you walk briskly at about 4 miles per hour for 30 minutes, you could use up around 150 calories (equal to half the calories in the average chocolate bar). This probably equates to playing casual badminton for the same length of time.
4. It can boost your energy levels
You may feel more tired in the first week or two after you start walking frequently, but if you keep it up, you’ll probably find you soon have more energy than when you were inactive.
5. It’s great for your mental health
As with other types of exercise, walking is good for both your physical health and your mental health. Studies have suggested it can improve your mood, reduce stress and provide mental and emotional satisfaction.
Scientists think that exercise causes the release of particular hormones (chemicals produced naturally by your body) called endorphins. These may create a ‘natural high’ bringing about changes in your body that make you feel better and happier.
6. It’s better for the environment
Walking instead of driving means you’re reducing the amount of pollution released into the air, which helps to improve the air quality.
7. It’s convenient and it’s free
You can just get up and go when it suits you and it won’t cost you a penny. You also don’t need to worry about traffic jams or tube delays.
Get started and stay motivated
If you haven’t been active for a while, you may find walking is an easy way to get started. But it will also be important to keep motivated.
Begin slowly, and gradually increase how much walking you do. You might find it helps to set yourself goals. There are lots of apps that can count your steps, or you could use a pedometer, so your goals can be specific and measurable.
Make it part of your routine
You should aim to exercise at a moderate intensity for two and a half hours (150 minutes) a week. You can even break this down into sessions of 10 minutes.
Think about your daily routine and where you can include some walking. You could try:
- walking to work, or to the station or bus stop
- using your lunch break to go for a stroll
- going to the shops on foot rather than taking the car
- walking up escalators and using stairs instead of the lift
- instead of going to a café to catch up with a friend, get a takeaway drink and go for a walk instead
There are lots of apps available to track your steps, as well as your daily calorie count and what you’re burning off while you walk. You can also set goals and share your progress with friends. There are plenty to choose from and most are free.
If you live in a city, there are apps that have interactive walk planners so you can map the best walking route. They will also track your journey time, calories burned, step count and how much carbon you’ve saved.