Walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health
Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance.
It can also reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking is free and doesn’t require any special equipment or training.
Physical activity does not have to be vigorous or done for long periods in order to improve your health.
A 2007 study of inactive women found that even a low level of exercise – around 75 minutes per week – improved their fitness levels significantly, when compared to a non-exercising group.
Walking is low impact, requires minimal equipment, can be done at any time of day and can be performed at your own pace.
You can get out and walk without worrying about the risks associated with some more vigorous forms of exercise.
Walking is also a great form of physical activity for people who are overweight, elderly, or who haven’t exercised in a long time.
Walking for fun and fitness isn’t limited to strolling by yourself around local neighbour hood streets.
There are various clubs, venues and strategies you can use to make walking an enjoyable and social part of your lifestyle.
Gentle, low-impact exercise that’s easy, free and available to everyone – here’s why walking rocks
1. Walking strengthens your heart
Reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by walking regularly. It’s great cardio exercise, lowering levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
The Stroke Association says that a brisk 30-minute walk every day helps to prevent and control the high blood pressure that causes strokes, reducing the risk by up to 27 percent.
2. Walking lowers disease risk
A regular walking habit slashes the risk of type 2 diabetes by around 60 percent, and you’re 20 percent less likely to develop cancer of the colon, breast or womb with an active hobby such as walking.
3. Walking helps you lose weight
You’ll burn around 75 calories simply by walking at 2mph for 30 minutes. Up your speed to 3mph and it’s 99 calories, while 4mph is 150 calories (equivalent to three Jaffa cakes and a jam doughnut!).
Work that short walk into your daily routine and you’ll shed the pounds in no time.
4. Walking prevents dementia
Older people who walk six miles or more per week are more likely to avoid brain shrinkage and preserve memory as the years pass.
Since dementia affects one in 14 people over 65 and one in six over 80, we reckon that’s a pretty great idea.
5. Walking tones up legs, bums and tums
Give definition to calves, quads and hamstrings while lifting your glutes (bum muscles) with a good, regular walk.
Add hill walking into the mix and it’s even more effective. Pay attention to your posture and you’ll also tone your abs and waist.
6. Walking boosts vitamin D
We all need to get outside more. Many people in the UK are vitamin D deficient, affecting important things like bone health and our immune systems.
Walking is the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors while getting your vitamin D fix.
7. Walking gives you energy
You’ll get more done with more energy, and a brisk walk is one of the best natural energisers around.
It boosts circulation and increases oxygen supply to every cell in your body, helping you to feel more alert and alive.
Try walking on your lunch break to achieve more in the afternoon.
8. Walking makes you happy
It’s true – exercise boosts your mood.
Studies show that a brisk walk is just as effective as antidepressants in mild to moderate cases of depression, releasing feel-good endorphins while reducing stress and anxiety.
So for positive mental health, walking’s an absolute must.
Building physical activity into your life
If it’s too difficult to walk for 30 minutes at one time, do regular small bouts (10 minutes) three times per day and gradually build up to longer sessions.
However, if your goal is to lose weight, you will need to do physical activity for longer than 30 minutes each day.
You can still achieve this by starting with smaller bouts of activity throughout the day and increasing these as your fitness improves.
Physical activity built into a daily lifestyle plan is also one of the most effective ways to assist with weight loss and keep weight off once it’s lost.
Some suggestions to build walking into your daily routine include:
- Take the stairs instead of the lift (for at least part of the way).
- Get off public transport one stop earlier and walk to work or home.
- Walk (don’t drive) to the local shops.
- Walk the dog (or your neighbour’s dog).
Wearing a pedometer while walking
A pedometer measures the number of steps you take. You can use it to measure your movement throughout a day and compare it to other days or to recommended amounts.
This may motivate you to move more.
The recommended number of steps accumulated per day to achieve health benefits is 10,000 steps or more.
A comfortable Intensity For Walking
For most people, there is little difference in the amount of energy used by walking a kilometre or running a kilometre – it’s just that walking takes longer.
Plan to cover a set distance each day and monitor how long it takes you to walk this distance. As your fitness improves, you will be able to walk a longer distance and use more energy.
Walking fast burns more kilojoules per hour than walking slowly, but this doesn’t mean you have to push yourself until you’re breathless. Instead, pace yourself so that you can still talk.
This simple rule of thumb means that you walk safely within your target heart rate, which brings about health gains.
Our bodies tend to get used to physical activity, so continue to increase your intensity as you are able to improve your fitness levels. You can increase the intensity of your walks by:
- walking up hills
- walking with hand weights
- increasing your walking speed gradually by including some quick walking
- increasing the distance you walk quickly before returning to a moderate walking pace
- walking for longer.
What’s a good average walking speed?
- A good average walking speed is 3 to 4 miles per hour (mph) and depends on your leg length and how quickly you can move your legs.
- You may need to start at a slower pace if you’re out of shape, but you will build up quickly if you walk regularly.
- Once you exceed 4 mph, it gets tricky because you don’t know if you should walk or run. Proper speed-walking technique will help at fast speeds.
- Treadmill and outdoor walking yield the same benefits. Set the elevation to 1% to mimic outdoor walking.
How many calories will I burn walking?
A 150-pound man burns 100 calories per mile; a 200-pound man burns 133 calories per mile; and a 250-pound man burns 166 calories per mile.
You burn virtually the same number of calories whether you run or walk a mile; you just get there faster if you run.
How can people measure steps and calories burned during exercise?
Smartphone apps and wearable fitness devices are all the rage. But are they accurate?
Estimating calories burned
Recent research shows that wearable activity monitors can be in error anywhere from 9.3%-23.5% in detecting how many calories you burn during your workout, with the average error being 12.9%.
This means that if you were to burn 300 calories during your workout, your device could be inaccurate by about 39 calories.
But the error could be far greater because measuring calorie expenditure in a laboratory where the temperature, humidity, and terrain (studies are conducted on treadmills) is held constant is much different than outdoors where the weather can make a big difference in how many calories you burn and so does what you wear.
For instance, you burn more calories…
- If the temperature is cold compared with hot because your body works harder to keep you warm,
- If it’s humid and warm than dry and cool in an attempt to stay cool,
- when the terrain is hilly than when it’s flat because it requires more energy to climb hills,
- when you wear heavy, restrictive clothing compared with workout gear.
Wearable fitness devices
Wearable fitness devices and smartphone fitness apps are smart, but not that smart. They don’t add the above factors to the calculations that help them estimate how many calories you burn.
One could argue that if the error is constant then you can use the device as a method of determining whether you burn more or less calories from workout to workout.
That argument has merit, but I don’t recommend deciding how many calories to eat if you want to lose weight based on how many calories the device tells you to burn.
For example, if it says you burned 600 calories working out and you figure you can splurge on ice cream as a treat, well, that’s all well and good, but what if you really only burned 500 calories and the ice cream is 600?
You won’t lose weight that way. But aside from that, I like the idea of the feedback from devices, even if there is some error.
Just don’t count on the calorie burn estimate as a precise way to decide how much to eat if weight loss is a goal.
Smartphone apps and wearable devices are more accurate at estimating steps than they are at estimating calories burned.
They use sophisticated accelerometers, or motion sensors, to count the steps. Interestingly, recent research shows that smartphones were often more accurate than wristbands.
Smartphones were off by -6.7% to +6.2% whereas wearable devices were off from -22.7% to -1.5%. Pedometers and accelerometers were most accurate with error of just 1.0% or less.
What does it all mean? Don’t throw out your devices! Even if there is error, they still provide feedback which research suggests can motivate you to be more active.
And if the error is consistent, then at least it’s going to tell you whether you did more or less from workout to workout. And they’re fun, I say wear them and enjoy them!
Warming up and cooling down after walking
The best way to warm up is to walk slowly. Start off each walk at a leisurely pace to give your muscles time to warm up, and then pick up the speed.
Afterwards, gently stretch your leg muscles – particularly your calves and front and back thighs. Stretches should be held for about 20 seconds.
If you feel any pain, ease off the stretch. Don’t bounce or jolt, or you could overstretch muscle tissue and cause microscopic tears, which lead to muscle stiffness and tenderness.
It’s best to dress lightly when you do physical activity. Dressing too warmly can increase sweating and build up body temperature, which can make you uncomfortable during a walk or possibly cause skin irritations.
A gradual cool-down will also prevent muscular stiffness and injury.