Walking is simple, free and one of the easiest ways of getting active.
You don't have to walk for hours. Even a short brisk walk has lots of health benefits and counts towards your recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise. However, if you can manage 30 minutes a day that's even better.
It is a great method of self-care and has many positive effects which overall can improve quality of life. For example, walking can help to:
Increase energy levels and stamina
Boost mood and reduce anxiety
Improve the quality of sleep
Boost the immune system
Increase access to sunlight which can help boost vitamin D production
Improve the management of conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
Increase lung function
Reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
Reduce the risk of cancer
Improve cooordination and balance, particulary walking on uneven terrain
Strengthen bones and muscles
If you don't walk much and want to start then there are a few things to consider:
Ensure you have shoes or trainers that are comfortable, provide adequate support and do not cause blisters. For long walks, ensure you take some water, healthy snacks, and sunscreen with you. If you opt for more challening routes you may want to invest in some waterproofs and some specialist walking shoes as well.
To track your progress or measure how far you're walking then you may wish to invest in a pedometer, which measures the number of steps you take. You can use it to measure your movement throughout the day and compare it to other days or to recommended amounts. This can help motivate you to move more.
Find your pace
What constitutes a brisk walk will vary from person to person depending on their fitness levels. If you're at the right level you should be breathing noticeably but still be able to speak in full sentences. If you can still talk but cannot sing the words to a song then you're at the right pace! If you want to get technical try using the free Active 10 app on your smartphone. It tells you when you're walking fast enough and suggests ways to fit in some more brisk walking.
Our bodies tend to get used to physical activity, so as your fitness levels improve you will need to increase your intensity, you can do this by:
walking up hills
walking with handweights
increasing your walking speed gradually
walking for longer
Make it a habit
The easiest way to walk more is to make walking a habit. Think of ways to include walking in your daily routine. For example:
walking part of your journey to work
walking to the shops
using the stairs instead of the lift
leaving the car behind for short journeys
walking the kids to school
doing a regular walk with a friend
going for a stroll with family or friends after dinner
Walking while listening to music or a podcast can take your mind off the effort. It can also get you into a rhythm and help you walk faster. You'll be surprised at how fast the time goes when you're walking to your favourite tunes.
Keep it interesting
Add variety to your walks. You can use it as an excuse to visit the countryside to find a rewarding walk. However, towns and cities also offer interesting walks, including parks, canal towpaths, nature reserves etc. If you want to stick close to home and limit your walking to your neighbourhood streets, pick different routes so you don’t get tired of seeing the same sights. Walk at various times of the day. What you see first thing in the morning will be different from what you see in the afternoon or early evening. Explore what’s going on around you, notice the sky, the people, the sounds etc.
If you prefer to walk with others you could join a walking group. This is a great way to make new friends and discover new areas. Ramblers organises group walks for health, leisure and as a means of getting around for people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of fitness.
Its website has details of many locally organised walks in towns and cities, as well as the countryside.
While walking is generally a safe way to exercise there are some things to consider:
Choose walks that suit your age and fitness level. If you are overweight, have any health conditions, or haven't exercised in a long time you may wish to see your GP for a check-up before getting started.
Ensure you have the right clothing and equipment for the terrain and conditions e.g. waterproofs, sunscreen, etc.
Walk in safe, well lit areas and ensure you are visible at all times. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or use a flashlight at night.
Drink plenty of fluids before and after your walk. If you are taking a long walk, take water with you.
Follow the rules of the road and obey signs and signals. If you are on a road with no pavement walk on the side that faces the oncoming traffic and as far to the side as possible.
If you start walking and find you're suffering with aches and pains, don't forget sports massage is a great way to deal with any niggles and keep you moving.
Enjoy your walk!