One of the silver linings of lockdown is that many of us are now walking more than we ever have done in the past. Working from home and the restriction of other activities has meant that many of us have taken advantage of our local surroundings by walking outside once a day to enjoy the fresh air before returning to our homes.
Adding just 20 minutes of walking to your day has been shown to improve health – and walking, in general, can benefit our physical and mental wellness.
Walking for health
To see the positive effects of walking – you should aim to walk briskly. Generally, this is regarded as a pace that makes you feel slightly out of breath, but still able to hold a conversation.
The NHS recommends that to stay fit and healthy you should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (around 20 – 30 minutes per day). The Active 10 NHS app can be downloaded to smartphones and records the number of steps you take a day. In addition to this, the app tells you if you are walking fast enough and suggest ways you can fit more brisk walking into your daily routine.
Health benefits of walking
Walking at a brisk pace helps to increase our heart rates and lowers blood pressure – both of which helps to strengthen the heart. Walking an average of 30 minutes or more a day has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by 35% - and type 2 diabetes by 40%.
Walking can help you control your weight by helping you burn calories. The number of calories you burn during a walk is dependent on the speed of your walk, the distance you cover and your body weight. For example, a 155-pound person walking at 3.5 mph (a brisk pace) uphill will likely burn around 422 calories an hour.
Exercise burns calories – and controlling the number of calories you take in and burn can help you maintain a healthy weight. Weight can have a major impact on our health – being overweight or obese is estimated to cause 14% of deaths in Europe. Adding 5 brisk 30 minute walks to your week can help you burn an additional 1,000 calories per week (on average).
Supports your bones and joints
Brisk walking is beneficial to bone health – especially if you tackle stairs or hills on your walk. As you walk uphill or upstairs you’re challenging your body to carry your body weight in a different way – which helps to improve muscle control and bone density.
Low impact exercise, such as walking, also helps to increase blood flow to cartilage – which is what sits around our joints. The increase in blood flow helps to increase the nutrients to the cartilage – which helps to support the ends of the bones in your joints.
If you walk regularly – you’ll know that even a short walk can make you feel better. Many report feeling a ‘boost’ after a walk – and research shows that people who walked outdoors for 20 minutes experienced more vitality and energy than those who walked indoors.
A walk can be a great way to revive focus, especially when you’re at work. Harvard Medical School researchers found that those who went for a 20 – 30 minute brisk walk before undertaking a mental task had a quicker reaction time and sharper decision making.
Slow down mental decline
Walking has been shown to slow down mental decline. Studies on men and women aged 60 to 80 found that those who went on a short walk 3 times a week increased the size of the areas of their brain linked to planning and memory. This increase was linked to the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus parts of the brain increasing in size, which was enough to offset the shrinkage doctors would expect to see.
Doctors concluded that just modest amounts of exercise help to increase important structures in the brain – especially in older adults.