Taking steps to improve your health

05 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 Dr Paul Kalra, who says that walking has always been a great way of keeping yourself in shape – whatever your age.

Dr Kalra, a Consultant Cardiologist at Spire Portsmouth Hospital said that walking leads to improvement in general health; it 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 Dr Kalra 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.

‘’Exercise has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels), risk factors for heart disease (such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars) together with improving general physical and mental wellbeing’’ said Paul Kalra.

 “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 Portsmouth Hospital Orthopaedic Consultant Mr David Farr, 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 a very low impact exercise and so it 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.”

Dr Kalra 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. “

Although most people should be able to increase their walking almost immediately, both Dr Kalra and Mr Farr 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 Dr Kalra. “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.”

 

The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional

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