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Walking – Simply taking steps to improve your health

04 May 2017

With everyone now ‘checking their steps’ on a daily basis thanks to cheap-to-buy, easy-to-use ‘fitness trackers’ it seems that good, old-fashioned walking is back in vogue when it comes to keeping fit.

But the latest trend comes as no surprise to heart health expert Professor Anoop Chauhan, who says that walking has always been a great way of keeping yourself in shape – whatever your age.

Professor Chauhan, a Consultant Cardiologist at Spire Fylde Coast Hospital in Blackpool, said that walking leads to improvement in general health and has been proven to increase aerobic capacity and reduce body weight and blood pressure.

He said: “For people who are overweight and for older people who have previously led a fairly sedentary lifestyle, walking is a great way to get your body used to increased activity.”

But Professor Chauhan said that although a tracker device could prove useful it wasn’t a necessary part of any exercise regime.

“They can be useful in helping you set targets and chart how you are improving from day-to-day but all you really need before taking up walking is a good pair of shoes or boots,” he said.

As with all exercise, walking burns calories – someone who weighs 60kg who walks briskly at about 6.4km per hour (4 miles per hour) for 30 minutes uses up around 150 calories.

But it has also been shown to reduce the risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer while lowering your risk of early death.

Each day, the heart beats about 100,000 times and pumps about 23,000 litres (5,000 gallons) of blood around the body delivering oxygen and nutrients while carrying away unwanted carbon dioxide and waste products.

“During exercise the heart needs to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to other organs. Walking increases the amount of blood the muscles in your legs and arms need to move and it is the heart’s job to pump more blood to the cells so with increased activity the heart has to pump more blood by increasing heart rate,” said Professor Chauhan.

“As the heart gets stronger it will send out more blood with each heart beat meaning it becomes a stronger and more efficient pump.

 “There’s no need to go straight into ten mile hikes. But a steady start, increasing your speed and distance as you get fitter and more confident, is a great way to get your heart pumping and improving your general health.”

His opinions are supported by Spire Fylde Coast Hospital Orthopaedic Consultant Mr Sreekumar, who added: “Walking reduces lower back pain and improves bone strength and there is evidence that, in people with arthritic joints, walking actually reduces joint pain."

“The great thing about walking is that, provided you have the right sort of footwear, it is very low impact exercise and so does not damage your joints in the way running, tennis, squash and most contact sports can.”

“In fact the extra exercise can help you lose weight which, in turn, takes more pressure off joints such as knees and hips.”

Professor Chauhan advised people to begin every walk slowly then gradually increase your pace.  “To get real health benefits from walking, you need to be going at a pace that increases aerobic activity – the rate at which your body uses oxygen.

“At first you will reach the ‘heavy breathing’ stage fairly quickly but, after just a few sessions you will start to walk faster while controlling your breathing much better. As a rule of thumb you should be able to walk and talk – but not sing! “

Although most people should be able to increase their walking almost immediately, both Professor Chauhan and Mr Sreekumar advised people who have not exercised for a long time to ask their GP for guidance before starting any type of walking regime.

“It is always better to be safe than sorry,” said Professor Chauhan. “A GP will almost always encourage a patient to increase their daily exercise but sometimes they might want to make a few health checks before giving them the green light.”

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