When it comes to exercising to improve your health, you don’t need to spend hours in the gym, take up a sport or even take part in intensely physical activities. Walking is one of the easiest ways to get your recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise, providing a free and easy way to stay active.
Whether you walk to work or on your lunch break, or even just walk around the block when you get a few spare minutes, you'll be surprised at the difference that regular walking can make.
Regularly taking a brisk walk can provide a range of health benefits, many of which are the same or similar to more intense forms of exercise.
Walking can help you:
As well as the physical effects, walking can also benefit your mental health. Regular walks can reduce stress, and improve your mood and your quality of sleep.
The longer and more frequently you walk, the more benefits you’ll see. Increasing your walking speed over time will also help improve your fitness, as fast walking or power walking is an aerobic activity that looks after your heart while burning calories.
It’s a good idea to make walking part of your daily routine, even if you can only go on a short walk on some days. This will help build up your endurance and help you achieve the recommended amount of exercise for good health — the NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week.
Walking part of the way to work, using stairs instead of lifts, walking to the shops and avoiding driving on short journeys can all help you fit walking into your daily routine.
If your fitness levels aren’t great or you have mobility issues, start small with short walks and build up to longer, more difficult walks over time.
You should set realistic goals to increase your walking distance, and plan your walks so you’re aware of the distance and types of terrain, starting with easier routes at first.
Begin with walks around your local area and familiar routes, making sure you stop if you need to. If you’re finding the walk difficult, have a rest or cut it short. It’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself to walk too far or too fast.
If you find that walking is causing painful joints, you may want to exercise in a swimming pool to start with. This will reduce pressure on your joints while allowing you to be active. You can walk laps of the pool to build up your endurance and help your joints until you’re ready to try going for a walk outside again.
Making your daily walks more fun will help you stick with your routine, maintain motivation and ensure you enjoy your walks as well as benefit from them physically.
To make walking more fun, try:
When walking, you should make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothes that don’t restrict your movements. You should also use light layers that help keep you warm without causing you to overheat.
Your footwear is also very important when walking. You need shoes that are comfortable and support your feet and ankles. They should also absorb shock to reduce the strain on your feet, legs and joints.
The best type of shoe will depend on where and how long you will be walking. Trainers designed for walking or running can be ideal for shorter walks or if you’re walking on pavements or grass. For hikes or more difficult terrains, it’s a good idea to wear walking boots that have been broken in as they will provide additional support.
Warming up before your walk helps reduce the chances of injury and muscle soreness while also improving your performance. Stretching after walking will help improve your flexibility and reduce the chances of stiff muscles the next day.
Marching in place or walking slowly to start will both help warm your muscles up so you can then stretch them safely as you exercise. At the end of your walk, cool down by slowing your pace before stretching to complete your workout. It’s not a good idea to stretch cold muscles, as this can cause pain and injury.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.
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Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.
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Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.