May is National Walking Month. A month to promote and celebrate the joys, benefits and health effects of walking! Who’d have ever thought we needed to raise awareness of such a simple activity?! Yet, with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the impact of this on our nation’s health, the simple task of walking needs some extra support!
So, what’s the big deal with walking?
Not only is walking as a mode of transport great for our environment, walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. Just 20-30 minutes walking a day can improve your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking is free and doesn’t require any special equipment or training.
Did you know, physical activity does not have to be vigorous or done for long periods in order to improve your health. A 2007 study of inactive women found that even a low level of exercise – around 75 minutes per week – improved fitness levels significantly, when compared to a non-exercising group.
What are the health benefits of walking?
Walking is a weight bearing exercise, as you are carrying your own body weight when you walk. There are lot’s of health benefits associated with walking more. Some of the benefits of walking include:
- increased cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness
- reduced risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases
- helps manage and improve conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol
- helps with joint and muscular pain or stiffness and long standing conditions such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis
- stronger bones and improved balance
- increased muscle strength and endurance
- reduced body fat
- improved psychological and mental health
- stress relief
How much walking?
As a recommended guideline, to get the health benefits, you should try to walk for at least 20 – 30 minutes as briskly as you can on most days of the week. ‘Brisk’ means that you can still talk but not sing, and you may be puffing slightly.
The 30 minutes doesn’t have to be done all at one time, it can be broken up into smaller chunks, like 3 x 10 minute walks if this fits better with your lifestyle or you can’t manage 30 minutes in 1 go. Although, this may not be advisable in the current climate with our 1 activity a day restriction.
Building walking into your daily life is the most effective way to maintain activity levels. Take a look at the ‘Try 20’ Challenge below. There’s lot’s of ways and simple ideas for you to get 20 minutes of walking into your day.
Make walking part of your daily life
Walking is an easy and accessible way to improve physical and mental health and a 20-minute walk can reduce the risk of a number of
preventable health conditions, including certain cancers, depression, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
By swapping a short drive for a short walk, you can also help reduce air pollution, congestion and road danger – whilst saving yourself some money and getting active in the process!
If you can build waling into your daily life, you are more likely to maintain it longer term. Some suggestions to build walking into your daily routine include:
- Take the stairs instead of the lift (for at least part of the way).
- Get off public transport one stop earlier and walk to work or home.
- Walk (don’t drive) to the local shops.
- Make walking part of your routine, maybe the same time every day scheduled into your diary.
Progress and challenge yourself
Over time, our bodies will tend to get used to physical activity. So if you’re starting to walk more and more, try to increase the intensity of your walking as your fitness levels improve. You can increase the intensity of your walks by:
- walking up hills
- walking with hand weights
- increasing your walking speed gradually by including some quick walking
- increasing the distance you walk quickly before returning to a moderate walking pace
- walking for longer
Keep it interesting!
Like anything, if you enjoy doing it, you’ll be more likely to stick to it and make it part of your life. The same applies to walking. There are lot’s of ideas to keep your daily walk more interesting:
- Pick different routes so you don’t get tired of seeing the same sights, explore places you’ve never ventured to before in your local area.
- Walk at different times of the day. Fresh morning walks will be a very different experience to a dusk walk.
- Put on a podcast or playlist to listen to whilst you walk.
- Drive to different places to walk, park the car and enjoy the views and scenery while you walk.
- Find one or more friends or family members to walk with, walk instead of (or at least on the way to or before!) having a coffee.
- Explore what’s going on around you, notice the sky, the people, the sounds. Be mindful.
- Think about local walking groups that might offer additional support. Here’s some ideas.
- Walk the dog (or your neighbour’s dog or look at sites like ‘Borrow My Doggy‘). Getting a dog can be a great way of encouraging you to exercise regularly if you can take on the commitment.
- Meet friends for a social walk instead of going for a coffee.