Walking is one of the best ways to stay active and improve your fitness without the added intensity that other forms of exercise bring, so almost anyone can do it. You can easily build walking into a busy lifestyle as you can do it virtually anywhere and at any time. Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.
The further health benefits of walking can be summarised as follows:
- You can walk anywhere, at anytime
- It is a great way to get healthier and lose weight
- Walking can reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol and help to control diabetes
- Getting out and about means you are exposed to sunlight helping your body to produce vitamin D
A report by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support detailed the health benefits of the humble walk. By walking to fulfil the 150 minutes of moderate exercise recommended weekly, 37,000 lives could be saved and nearly 300,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes would develop.
How best to get started
The sooner you get started, the sooner you will notice the difference in your mind and body. The experts suggest that you should start with shorter walks and build up to a 30 minute walk once you feel comfortable. A good walking technique is key to staying healthy and improving fitness. Stand up straight, tighten your stomach muscles, let your arms swing naturally and roll through your foot from heel to toe.
Ensure that you have comfortable supportive footwear which is flexible, lightweight and breathable. These same principles apply to the clothes you wear. Make sure that you have light layers which you can take off or put on as the weather and your body temperature dictates. Bear in mind that a light waterproof is often needed even in our British summer.
When choosing a route either directly from your house or office or that you can drive to, try to find a green space, park or country path. Connecting with nature this way has been found to reduce stress levels, improve mood, ease depression, enhance psychological wellbeing and improve attention and concentration.
Rather than walking alone, try to enlist the support of a walking buddy so that you can motivate each other. Organised walks can now be found in many areas. Walking for Health is one such scheme set up by Macmillan Cancer Support and Ramblers. If you enter your postcode or town into their website below, a range of options will be described with helpful notes on the length of the walk and other factors to take into consideration.
Moving on by tracking your walking progress
If you would like to record your progress, there are various ways you can do this. A pedometer and pencil and paper will enable you to do this in a simple way. A fitness tracker may also help motivate you and certain ones let you interact with friends and you can encourage one another in this way.
Once you’ve mastered the 30 minutes of exercise per day, changing your walking route is a great way to keep motivated. You can also vary your walk by trying some of the following:
- Walk up hills to use a wider range of muscles. This also uses more energy than walking along flat surfaces.
- If your walk is along a flat route, increase the endurance by increasing the distance.
- Do speed walking or jogging sprints, using trees, lamp posts or street signs as your start and end targets.
Remember that walking also helps the planet. By parking the car and walking or leaving the car at home, you will be helping to reduce air pollution. This is particularly important for short journeys which use almost twice the CO2 per mile.
One of the best things about walking is that you can do it alone, with friends or with your pet dog, and it doesn’t cost a thing. Whether it’s a walk to the shops or part of your journey to work, a walk on your own or an organised walk with a group of like-minded people, try to make every step count.
If you would like to learn more about the Ramblers Wellbeing Walks Scheme set up by the Ramblers Association, please click on the link above to find out about the organised walks in your area.