Why is walking good for your health?
Admit it: you already know the answer to that question, don’t you? Yes, walking every day (or at least most days) is good for your health. Taking 30 minutes a day to hit the pavement or the treadmill brings a wealth of health benefits.
But we get it. It’s hard to find time to call your mother, let alone take half an hour out for yourself. Juggling the kids, work and mountains of washing while trying not to neglect – you wonder when you’ll ever get back to the gym.
However, the experts are right (as usual!) Research suggests that some kind of exercise – including walking – most days is good for your body and mind. So, you don’t have to squeeze in a weekly spin class once the kids go to bed.
Just take the opportunity to lace up your shoes whenever it presents itself. Here’s why…
Walking can help to keep your heart healthy
Walking gets your blood pumping, supplying vital oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. And physiotherapist Brad McIntosh says that this, in turn, “reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and helps to improve your aerobic and muscular fitness.”
Just don’t forget to warm up .
Walking can also help reduce stress and improve your mood
Another reason that walking is good for you is that it lifts your mood. And, when you walk briskly, evidence points to better mental and memory function.
Even a short walk in the fresh air can have mood benefits. Try popping your headphones on and listening to a podcast. Or cue up your favourite playlist and walk in time to the thumping beat.
Alternatively, simply enjoy the scenery and let yourself be in the moment. Take in everything you see that you’d miss if you were driving. Relax your shoulders, your arms and your eyes.
Whether you walk alone or , it’s time spent away from your demanding schedule, looking after everyone else. And who doesn’t feel good about that?
Do you really need to walk 10,000 steps to get the benefits?
Back in the 1960s, researchers decided that a goal of 10,000 steps was a great marketing tool to sell pedometers. They had good intentions though: they wanted to encourage people to move more and recognise how sedentary their lives were.
At that point, researchers assumed that the average person took about 3,500-5,000 steps as incidental exercise as they were just going about their day. And they estimated that aiming for 10,000 steps would double this figure.
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that what we actually need is 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise to live a healthy life. Of course, if you enjoy running, that can be an excellent exercise option. “But,” Brad adds, “brisk walking – the type that elevates your heart rate and makes you puff a little – also fits into this category.”
In other words: you don’t necessarily need to walk long distances every day for health benefits. Instead, to get your weekly 150 minutes of brisk walking, just do 30 minutes five days a week.
When is the best time to walk?
Some say the benefits of a morning walk include better focus and a great start to the day, and they may be right. But if you’ve had a broken night’s sleep and need to do a million things before 9am, a sunrise walk probably won’t happen.
And if you’re not naturally a morning person, that’s OK. Whatever time of day you pound the pavement, it will still help to improve your health.
The good news is that you can still benefit from slipping on your walking shoes at lunchtime. Or wait till the kids are in bed and then push yourself out the door. (You could even try taking your kids out for some fun exercise with you some days.)
The best time to exercise is always whenever you can actually do it.
What do you need to reap the benefits of walking?
You’re probably wondering whether you need fancy shoes or hand weights for walking to be good for you.
In answer, Brad says that quality shoes are important for foot, ankle and leg health. His recommendations include:
- choosing shoes that are suitable for walking or hiking if you’re going off-road
- getting advice from a good physio or podiatrist if you have a history of injury to your feet, shins, hips or back
- changing your shoes roughly every six months or 800km
And if you’re thinking about walking with ankle or hand weights, be careful! They can change your gait, force you to overuse muscles or increase your risk of injury.
Step by step, you’ll improve your health
All you need to do is start. Trial some walking routes around your neighbourhood, or renew that gym membership and use their treadmill.
Then try to carve out some time for yourself each week, and just take the first step.
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Brad McIntosh is a highly-trained and well-regarded physiotherapist with a particular clinical and research interest in knee rehabilitation.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021