Walking and health

Benefits of walking

Some of the benefits of walking are listed below.

A great way to travel

Walking is a good means of getting around for many reasons.

  • It’s convenient – you can just get up and go when it suits you.
  • It won’t cost you a penny – you don’t need to pay for fuel, parking or transport fares.
  • Walking is predictable – you know how fast you can walk so you’re in control of your journey times.
  • If you can walk some or all of the way to work, you don’t need to worry about late buses and trains or traffic jams, so you will feel less stressed, which is good for your mental health.
  • More people getting out of their cars and walking instead means less pollution and hence better air quality – so you’re not only improving your health but everyone else’s, especially those with breathing problems.
  • Walking is sociable – you can do it with a friend or colleague and chat as you go.

Boost your fitness

Brisk walking that raises your heart rate and makes you warm and slightly breathless is a great example of aerobic exercise. This helps you to get fitter and means your body gets better at using oxygen so you will find it easier to be more active and tire less quickly.

Stay in shape

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 half an hour uses up around 150 calories. To lose excess weight, you need to make sure you’re burning up more calories than you take in through eating and drinking. You’re also likely to need to exercise more than the recommended target of 150 minutes a week.

Feel happier

As with all types of exercise, not only is walking good for your physical health, but it improves your mood, reduces stress and anxiety and builds self-esteem. So walking to work could help you to start the day feeling calmer and happier. Any sort of exercise causes the release of particular hormones (chemicals produced naturally by your body) called endorphins – these hormones create a ‘natural high’ bringing about changes in your body that make you feel better and happier.

Feel full of energy

You might worry that walking every day will leave you exhausted. Although you may feel slightly tired in the first week or two, people who exercise regularly generally feel they have more energy than inactive people.

Sleep well

Regular physical activity will mean you sleep better, provided you don’t do it too soon before going to bed – this can disrupt your sleep so leave about four hours between exercising and getting your head down. Gentle exercise is fine though – heading out for a light stroll after your evening meal might help you to wind down before bedtime.

Reduce joint and back pain

For your joints to work at their best, you need to keep them moving. Regular walking gives your knee joints a good work-out, increases your muscle strength and can help to keep your bones strong. Leading a generally active lifestyle, including walking, may help protect against osteoporosis (weak bones).

Walking is an excellent choice of exercise if you already have joint problems or osteoporosis because it doesn’t put much impact on your joints. It can also help to reduce pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Not only can walking reduce joint pain, it can help to prevent back pain and alleviate it if it’s already a problem for you.

Walking and your future health

As well as keeping you fit and in good shape, staying active will mean you’re less likely to develop a range of health problems in the future. Using walking to help you meet the recommended physical activity targets reduces your risk of:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • coronary heart disease (which can lead to angina, heart attack or stroke)
  • type 2 diabetes
  • certain types of cancer, especially colon and breast cancer
  • mental health problems

Get going

If you haven’t been active for a while, walking is one of the easiest ways to get started. Begin slowly and gradually increase how much walking you do. Build walking into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit – that way it will be easier to keep it up. Below are some ideas to help you get started.

  • Walk to the shops instead of driving.
  • Go for a walk in your lunch break with a colleague.
  • Walk up escalators and use stairs instead of the lift.
  • Organise a walk for your whole family – walking is beneficial for everyone and will give you a chance to spend time together.
  • Set yourself a goal such as aiming to walk 10,000 steps a day – use a pedometer to count them.
  • Instead of going to a café to catch up with a friend, get a takeaway drink and go for a walk instead.

Keep motivated

Once you have started walking regularly, there are a number of things you can do to keep going.

  • Join a local walking group – you will make new friends and get the chance to explore different areas.
  • Explore the UK on foot – enjoy walking over hills, along the riverside or beach, or through a woodland.
  • If you want more of a challenge, try orienteering (navigating on foot between points on a map).
  • Why not try Nordic walking? This involves walking with poles, which helps you to work harder and use your upper body muscles as well. It’s also good if you’re unsteady on your feet as the poles offer you support.

Action points

  • Walk briskly for 150 minutes (two and a half hours) over a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
  • If you haven’t been active for a while, start by doing smaller amounts of activity and gradually build up the time you spend walking.
  • Go walking with friends or your family to keep you motivated.
  • Remember that walking can be really enjoyable – head to your local park or explore somewhere you haven’t been before.