“Walking is a superfood. It is the defining movement of a human” (Katy Bowman in Move your DNA; restore your health through natural movement)
Whether it’s getting to work, getting from A to B, or getting away from it all, the more it gets done by walking (according to the ever-growing research and evidence) the fitter and healthier you are likely to be.
Walking is arguably an oft-overlooked and underestimated form of physical activity, however many studies are now starting to (re)emphasise the benefits of walking for both our physical and mental health.
Walking is possibly the most inclusive and accessible form of exercise there is. For a start we are, quite literally, designed to walk. It requires no pre-requisite skills, no tuition in technique, it is literally available to you on your doorstep and is as simple and easy to participate in as donning a pair of shoes and stepping outside.
It can be performed all year round, in all weathers and over all kinds of different terrain and can be incorporated into both our personal and working lives (as well as the commute in-between).
Walking, it seems, offers benefits to our physical and mental fitness and health whatever the level of intensity we can do – walking offers psychological, therapeutic, physical, physiological and social benefits.
One of the biggest studies into the benefits of walking was conducted by the University College London, which looked at the results of 18 studies into walking and its benefits over a period of 37 years (between 1970 and 2007). In all, these studies evaluated 459,833 people in seven countries on three continents over an average study period of 11.3 years. The findings of this meta-analysis made a very strong case for walking.
In all, walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular problems by 31% as well as improving longevity by 32%. Benefits were evident even for those who did the minimal recommended physical activity. However, it is interesting to note that the people who walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or did a mixture of them both, reaped the greatest benefits.
The benefits seem to go on and on; improved cardiovascular health, better blood pressure levels, better body composition (both body fat percentage and body mass index) and improved insulin sensitivity. Not to mention a reduction in the odds of contracting some cancers. There is even studies to suggest it increasing both lifespan and the quality of life.
For mental health, walking has been shown to have a very positive effect; reducing stress and boosting resilience and cognitive function.
Plus, it means getting outside in the fresh air. Which is good for the body, mind and spirit.
For many of us, walking offers a fantastic ‘gateway’ to exercise and becoming more physically active in our daily lives. Walking can be made as gentle or as ‘hard core’ in intensity as you want/are able, as you have full control of so many variables.
The speed at which we walk; the terrain we walk over; the gradients/steps we ascend and/or descend; the time we walk for; the distance covered; the load we carry whilst walking and the frequency with which we do it – all of these options allow us to tweak our walking and make it as easy or as hard as we want.
Walking can be as simple as swapping the lift for the stairs more often in work, getting off the bus a stop or two earlier on the way to/from the office, or undertaking a classic mountain traverse in the Scottish Highlands.
Walking at a sufficiently fast enough pace – moderate to brisk – allows you to count walking as part of your 150 minutes of moderate activity the Department of Health recommends we should be aspiring to achieve per week, in order to stay in good health. For further information on what the physical activity guidelines are, and how you can achieve them click here.
Simply walking at a sufficient pace for a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week (and remember, this can be broken down into 3x10 minute bouts over the course of the day) can be just as effective as running at lowering blood pressure, high cholesterol, as well as the risk of diabetes and with a much lower risk of injury compared to other activities, especially running.
Studies vary widely, but it is estimated that anywhere between 30 and 80 percent of regular runners are injured in a given year. Contrast that with 1-5% for walking and we have an almost injury-proof alternative, substitute, or even complement to running.
And let us not forget the calories walking can burn too! Walking, especially when we walk faster or up stairs/gradients, can be a surprisingly effective means by which to feel the burn. To see how many calories you can burn during walking, click here.
To find out more about the different benefits of walking, take a look at our walking pages. And, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook to be kept up-to-date with tips on health and wellbeing.
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Scott, S.J., (2013) 10,000 Steps Blueprint - The Daily Walking Habit for Healthy Weight Loss and Lifelong Fitness Kindle Edition: Amazon.com