People talk about the importance of walking every day but what are its actual benefits?
Walking is good for your health and, as summer is upon us, the days are becoming longer and people are looking for new hobbies. Walking is among the more common pastimes, as it is not only enjoyable but healthy. It appeals to everyone as it is easy, affordable and safe.
With a lot of events coming up this summer, such as Wirral Coastal Walk and Walk for Parkinson’s, this healthy habit is becoming increasingly popular, not only among the middle-aged, but also among the younger generations.
Walking has a lot of benefits and, for this reason, doctors suggest it as an easy way to exercise and keep healthy. “Walking gives you energy, it makes you happy and it boosts your vitamin D. For men over the age of 50, walking strengthens your heart, prevents dementia, helps you lose weight and tones up your legs,” says Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) health coach, Linda Guerrero.
Among the other benefits of walking, it increases cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, improves hypertension, cholesterol, muscular pain and diabetes. Walking also strengthens bones and muscles, it reduces body fat and it lowers blood pressure.
“Walking helps you keep healthy because it is a physical activity that anyone can do at any time of the day. Walking frees your mind from negative thoughts and relaxes you, so that not only your body, but also your mental health benefits from it,” adds Linda Guerrero.
Before starting any intense activity, it is important to see a doctor, in order to get the best advice depending on your needs. Pollyanna Hale, nutritionist, personal trainer and weight loss coach, explains: “Walking is the best exercise for so many reasons. It’s low impact and suitable for pretty much everyone, and you get the benefits of sunlight, fresh air and being among nature at the same time.”
“Walking is the best exercise for so many reasons”
Hale adds that walking can reduce the risk of cancer, improve cognitive functioning and bring a lot of mental benefits: “Walking 150 minutes per week (around 20 minutes a day) and losing 7% of your body weight (12-15 pounds) reduces your risk of diabetes by 58%. People who walk for three hours or more per week (still only half an hour a day) reduce their risk of a heart attack by 35%! Walking in green spaces is fantastic for stress relief, relaxation and for improving low moods. Many lifestyle and age-related diseases can be prevented or reduced simply by walking more.”
Furthermore, a study carried out by researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand found out that ten minutes of walking after eating can improve blood glucose control in older people.
Many people make walking an essential part of their everyday routine, such as William McGranaghan, a 54-year-old man from London, who loves to walk every day and plays football twice a week: “I walk to work every day. I always walk through Holland Park and have a coffee on my way back home. It is a fantastic way to wind down and clear your head after a stressful day.” But walking also makes you appreciate all the beauty around you. “Walking around London, you always come across some amazing places, such as St. Paul’s and the little side streets,” he adds.
The most common advice nutritionists and fitness advisors give is to walk at least 30 minutes per day. That doesn’t sound much, yet for some of us, it is still too difficult to commit to this activity regularly. Of course, the more you walk, the better, but even ten minutes would make a difference if your schedule looks very busy.
Among the more well-known tips from health experts are: take the stairs instead of the lift, get off public transport one stop earlier and walk to work or home.
Public transport is the alternative to walking – it is faster, less tiring and it prevents you from getting to work late. Usually. However, too many people start overly relying on public transport to the extent they forget the benefits of walking. This is why Linda suggests: “In order to make it part of their daily routine, men can start walking with some friends, family members or pets; company and motivation are key to start a regular healthy habit.”
Since walking is often associated with friendly strolls, a lot of people are discouraged if they do not find anyone to exercise with. But for William this is not a problem: “I meet so many people on my way to work and it is always nice to say hello.”
“If you are travelling by public transport very rarely will you have a conversation with someone,” says William. “I think any man over the age of 50 should try and be a little more conscious and perhaps have a healthier diet, stop smoking, cut down on alcohol and start thinking about walking or maybe try playing football, cricket or tennis again. A lot of older men don’t have a circle of friends who play sports anymore and find it increasingly difficult to start again, so the social element is as important as it is to keep healthy and fit.”
Once your body gets used to physical activity, you can start increasing the intensity of your workout, by walking up hills or with hand weights, by increasing your walking speed gradually or increasing the distance you walk quickly before returning to a moderate walking pace. Nordic walking is an example of walk that can be enjoyed both as a hobby and as a sport, as instructor Matthew Gibbs points out: “Nordic walking is a pleasurable pastime which almost becomes addictive. It is great for making posture better and this can lead to improvements in back and neck pain from a sedentary lifestyle or office-based work environment.”
Matthew adds: “The outdoor environment allows one to get lost in the sounds and sights of the natural environment and this leads to reduction in tension and stress in your body and mind. We organise our walks as social gatherings, so you get to walk and talk with interesting people and create new friendships.”
“It is a well-rounded activity that a lot of people should start to take on board”
As is clear, the benefits of walking are numerous: it is great not only for your body, but also for your mental health, which means this is a well-rounded physical activity that a lot of people should start to take on board.
During these long summer days, more than ever, it is easier to find some time for yourself, either after dinner or early in the morning. You do not need to be an athlete: you just need some passion and commitment. The rest will follow.