Updated: Aug 12, 2022
Walking has been described as the closest thing to a ‘perfect’ form of exercise. It’s got it all: it’s accessible to most people because it’s free and doesn’t require special equipment or training. It’s good for your body and mind and can even be good for social connection if you walk with others. Add to that the benefits to the environment when you walk instead of taking the car, and you’re really onto a winner.
Does walking really benefit your health very much?
Let’s dig down into those health benefits of walking and take an honest look at what it can do for your wellbeing:
Walking is good for your heart health
Any exercise that increases your heart rate and gets you breathing more heavily is good for your heart and cardiovascular system. Walking can do this for you, especially if you pick up the pace and walk a bit faster than usual. This kind of exercise gives your heart and lungs a workout as well as your muscles. Being active through walking regularly can:
Help to control your blood pressure
Increase levels of good cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol
Burn calories and help you maintain a healthy weight
Walking is good for your bones
Your bones benefit from walking because it is a weight-bearing activity which means your skeleton is holding you up without support. Add to that the jolt of taking a step, and walking is a great activity for strengthening your bones and keeping them healthy. As you age, your bones naturally weaken, but the more exercise you can do, the stronger they will be, and the less likely you are to suffer brakes and fractures.
Walking can reduce your risk of stroke
Two major risk factors for stroke are high blood pressure and obesity. Walking regularly can help reduce your blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy weight, therefore reducing your risk of stroke. Studies have also suggested that walking at least 2 hours a week can help reduce the severity of a stroke compared to people who are physically inactive.
Walking can reduce your risk of diabetes
Being active can help your body use insulin more effectively and keep your blood sugar levels under control, therefore reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, it’s so effective, it can even help people with type 2 put their diabetes into remission, meaning they don’t need to take diabetes medication to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
Walking can reduce your risk of dementia
1 in 14 people over 65 have dementia in the UK, but studies have found a strong link between being active and having a reduced risk of dementia. It’s thought this might be because walking and other exercise improves the blood flow to the brain, but more research is needed to confirm this. Either way, moderate exercise such as brisk walking is associated with a significantly reduced risk of cognitive decline in later life.
Walking can improve your mental health
Walking regularly can have a profound effect on mental health and is cited as being helpful in combatting depression and giving your mood a boost. Being active releases feel-good hormones that can even give you more energy, plus it can help relieve stress and give you something else to focus on if you’re going through a difficult time.
Can walking help you live longer?
A 2020 study showed that people aged 40 and over who took 8000 steps per day were half as likely to die within the next 10 years as those who took only 4000 steps. Other studies have shown however, that even a small increase in the amount of walking you do can improve your health and reduce your risk of life-threatening conditions.
The recommended level of moderate physical activity (i.e., brisk walking) each week is 150 minutes. That’s 30minutes a day, 5 days a week. If that sounds like a lot, then start with a more manageable goal. Maybe 10 minutes a day 3 days a week is more realistic to get you started, and you can gradually build that up as you get stronger. Any exercise is good, and more is better. Be kind to yourself -if you miss a day or two, remember that tomorrow is a new day, and one slip doesn’t erase the progress you’ve made already.
Every little bit of exercise you do can benefit your health and help improve your chances of living a longer, healthier life.
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