Walking is arguably the easiest and most accessible form of exercise around and yet, many of us look for opportunities to walk less and not more. Mechanized transport, elevators, escalators, valet parking, drive through diners… all of these things mean that it’s quite easy to get through a day without walking more than a few hundred steps at most.
This is in sharp contrast to our hunter/gather ancestors who, while seeking food and water, regularly walked 15 miles or more a day. Interestingly, these same hunter/gathers were healthier, suffered fewer degenerative diseases, had no issues with their weight, lived productive lives right up to the end and yet did not formal exercise. Coincidence? I don’t think so!
So why is walking such a healthful and beneficial activity? Good question!
- It’s natural and requires no special skills, equipment or facilities and you can walk almost anywhere and at any time.
- Walking is low risk – injuries from walking are very rare, especially when compared to running.
- It’s easy – walking is a low intensity activity so it barely qualifies as exercise. Subsequently, unlike excessive aerobic exercise, lots of walking will not impact negatively on your health and will, in contrast, enhance it.
- Walking can be sociable – you can walk with a friend or family member and improve your social fitness along with your physical fitness.
- You can tailor walking to meet your fitness levels. Not very fit? Walk at a moderate speed for 10 minutes. High level of fitness? Walk faster, wear a back pack and go further.
- Good for your heart, lungs, circulatory system and lower body muscles, walking can reduce your risk of suffering numerous serious medical conditions including coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks.
- Walking is a great way to see your neighborhood from a completely different perspective. Many things simply go unnoticed when you are carried by in a car or on a bus or train.
- Walking is an environmentally sound method of transport that, especially in built up areas of heavy traffic, can get you to your destination more quickly and cheaply than motorized transport.
- Walking can help unlock your mind and enhances numerous aspects of mental function. Many great thinkers have found walking very beneficial for improving creativity including the composers Elgar, Holst, Delius, Vaughan Williams and Charles Dickens found inspiration for his novels during his daily walks through London.
So, how much walking should you do? A good place to start is 30 minutes a day. That should fit easily into your schedule. Ideally you should clock up around 150 minutes per week which might sound like a lot but is actually only 30 minutes, five days a week. Of course you can (and probably should) try and do more but 150 minutes per week is a good initial target.
Walking is a natural activity but, that being said, following a few simple guidelines can make all the difference between seamlessly slotting this vital activity into your day and finding yourself miles from home with sore feet wishing you had never put none foot in front of the other!
- Comfortable, supportive, shock absorbing shoes are a must. You don’t have to go the whole hog and wear walking boots but normal street shoes might not be ideal either. A middle of the range pair of running shoes would be fine but if you get serious about your daily walk then by all means buy a dedicated pair of specialist walking shoes.
- Make sure your socks have no thick seams that will rub and give you blisters. Blisters can make even the toughest Marine cry.
- Wear clothes that are easily vented as you may warm up quite a bit when walking. Start cold and finish warm because, if you are warm before you start walking, the chances are you will get overheated later on. Wear layers so you can control your body temperature more easily.
- If you are going to walk in the vicinity of traffic, especially at night, wear something bright and consider carrying a torch to light your way. Always face oncoming traffic so you can watch for approaching hazards.
- Stride out and walk with purpose but don’t feel you have to turn your walk into a strenuous workout. Swing your arms, extend your legs through your hips but remain comfortable at all times.
- Increase your distance gradually. Start off with a very conservative duration, e.g. five minutes, and add a minute or so every walk you do. By the end of the month you’ll be walking for 30 minutes or more per session but, having built up to it gradually, it won’t be too big a shock to your system.
- If you have any balance issues consider using a walking stick or sticks for balance and stay on smooth, even surfaces. Do not increase your risk of suffering a fall by doing your walking on overly rough terrain.
- By all means carry a mobile phone for safety but avoid using it while you are walking. Enjoy your walk as an opportunity for quality alone time away from the stresses and demands of the modern world. If you choose to listen to music while you walk, make sure you can still hear approaching traffic.
- Don’t feel you are limited to walking once a day. Your walking could be cumulative throughout the day. This might be ten minutes in the morning, ten minutes at lunch time, five minutes in the late afternoon and five minutes in the evening.
- Look for additional walking opportunities. Take the stairs and not the lift, get off the bus a couple of stops earlier, use out-of-town car parks instead of the (more expensive) city center ones, walk to the local shops instead of drive…all of these additional walks are “money in the bank.”
Walking is an easy way to make sure you get enough activity during your day to stay healthy. There are 168 hours in a week and with two or three gym sessions and 30 minutes walking per day, you should have no trouble clocking up around five hours of exercise per week. Experts agree that this five-hour threshold is where the magic starts to happen in terms of health benefits and as this is such a small percentage of your week (around 3% actually) you still have lots of time left over to do the all the other things you want to do.