2020 has been hard for everyone, but it has made us realise the importance of getting outside when we can. When it’s chilly, grey or raining, the weather may be stopping you from going outdoors every day.
We’re here to try and persuade you to get out of the house, and we don’t mean for a 10k run every day – unless you want to! We’re talking about…walking! There are many health benefits of walking, even though it’s sometimes overlooked as a great form of exercise. Running is very popular, but that may be out of reach for a lot of people, and you can gain just as many health benefits from putting one foot in front of the other at a slower pace.
Is walking good for you?
There are lots of health benefits of walking, both mental and physical. Exercise in general is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but walking in particular can help improve your mental health, prevent nasty health conditions and provide a better quality sleep. Below we list some of the main benefits of walking.
Walking can help you burn calories, which in turn can help you lose weight. The number of calories you lose will depend on how fast and far you walk, the elevation you’re walking at (i.e. how hilly) and your current weight.
Walking can contribute to weight loss as part of an overall programme. We recommend eating a balanced diet and spending at least 150 minutes a week exercising if you are looking to shed some pounds.
Prevent and manage health conditions
One study in the National Library of Medicine found that walking five days a week for 30 minutes can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 19%. Because walking is less intense than other forms of exercise, you can do it for longer and more often, and it also lowers the risk of injury. Raising your heartbeat regularly is crucial to maintaining good health and fitness and can prevent other conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Doing more intense exercise safely (like running), however, is also great for your overall health.
Going for a walk increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. It flows particularly to the brain and muscles which can make you feel more alert.
Exercise also leads to a change in brain neurotransmitters, increasing levels of hormones like norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, all of which affect our energy levels.
Improve mental health
Every form of exercise can help our mental health and boost our mood. Studies like this one from Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry show that walking can help reduce depression, anxiety and social anxiety, while improving our moods in general.
It can be especially enjoyable if you take a walk with someone else but going independently will also do wonders for your mental health. Taking a stroll through scenic areas or soaking in some vitamin D (on rarer sunny days) can help keep a healthy mind during the winter.
Strengthen bones and muscles
Aerobic activity can make our bones and muscles stronger, avoiding conditions like osteoporosis. Whilst walking at the same pace for the same amount of time maintains our bone density, it doesn’t strengthen our bones. Making some slight changes, however, can. Walk faster, hit the hills, and add some bodyweight exercises midway through (squats or jump lunges).
Adding these activities to your walk can help your body build new muscle and keep fractures, bone loss and serious health conditions at bay.
Exercising regularly can help improve your night’s sleep. This is for a few reasons, as outlined by the Sleep Doctor:
- Exercise improves our mood and decompresses the mind
- Elevated heart rate helps create biological processes in the brain and body that contribute to a better-quality sleep
- Exercising uses energy and helps you feel more tired at the end of the day
- Stress is a common cause of sleep problems, and exercising can help reduce stress and anxiety
- Sleep disturbances can often be caused by pain, which walking helps reduce
How to walk more
Inspired by the health benefits of walking? Want to get into it but not sure how? Thankfully, walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise to take up – it is free and can be done anywhere, at any time.
Head for a short stroll at lunch or before you start work. This is especially good for your mental health if you’re working from home as it gets you out of the house. You will reap the benefits quickly and become motivated to get out for walks more often.
Ditch short car journeys
If you’re running an errand that requires a short car journey, why not walk instead? You can easily add a few thousand steps to your day by choosing walking over driving.
If walking to work is manageable, it’s a great way to keep fit and get some fresh air. If you get public transport to work, think about getting off a stop or two earlier and walking the rest of the way.
Explore new places
Walking the same route will quickly get boring, so switch it up and explore new places in your neighbourhood or further afield. You may be surprised at the number of great parks and areas close by that you’ve never come across before.
Do it with others
Going for a walk with friends or family is a great way to get out and about. Catch up with a friend over a walk instead of a coffee. Likewise, encouraging anyone you live with to join you will boost moods in the house. Depending on Coronavirus restrictions, take a look and see if there are any walking clubs nearby – it’s a great opportunity to meet new people, too.
Track your progress
Taking note of your progress is a brilliant way to motivate yourself to exercise, show off and encourage yourself to walk further each day. There are loads of apps – like Strava – that allow you to share routes with friends. Getting a pedometer or watch is a great idea if you want to follow your step count. It’s more reliable than a phone and some can also measure your heart rate and monitor your sleep.
Do it for a good cause
Walking for a cause is a fantastic way to stay motivated and begin your walking journey. There are plenty of initiatives running where you can walk to raise money for a good cause.
Some ACF detachments are getting involved in Walk Home for Christmas – an annual challenge that raises funds for people who have served in the military and need mental health care. The Tommy 10k is similar. Run, walk, or wheel a 10k route, independently or socially distanced with loved ones and raise money for vulnerable veterans.
The Army Cadet Force spends a lot of time outdoors (in normal circumstances), so if you’re looking for an adventure or want to live more of an active lifestyle, why not join us as an adult volunteer? There are plenty of benefits – as well as being more active, you can meet new people, inspire young people and learn new skills. Register to find out more.