In these days of HIIT, hot yoga, boot camps and spinning classes, the simple act of walking is often overlooked as a decent form of exercise, but numerous studies have shown that it is in fact one of the best exercises you can do. Regular daily walks can help you maintain your weight, help you sleep better, relieve stress, help with symptoms of depression and prevent heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Heck, some studies have shown a daily walk can even make you live longer – by up to seven years!
What’s more, it’s a great exercise for any age and fitness level, and it’s free. Aside from some comfy walking shoes, you need no special equipment to enjoy a brisk walk. In fact, you walk to work instead of jumping in the car or on the bus, you could even be saving dosh by pounding the pavements.
As we get older and get more aches and pains, it’s easy to make excuses not to hit the gym, which is why walking is such a great alternative. It’s low impact so puts a lot less stress on your knees and other joints. One study even showed that a brisk walk was more effective at reducing the risk of heart disease than running!
So how long should you walk every day? If you can do 30 minutes a day, you’ll soon start reaping the health benefits. One study showed that women who averaged 200 minutes of walking every week had more energy, felt better, socialised more and didn’t feel as depressed as they did prior to the walking.
Just like all exercise, walking releases more happy chemicals – endorphins – which help pep up your mood and can help lower stress levels. One Japanese study also found that walking in nature – as opposed to on the treadmill – boosts those feelgood chemicals further so that’s why adding a daily outdoors walk into your schedule should be a priority if you’re suffering from depression or want to feel generally healthier.
If you haven’t exercised since Mad Lizzie was on breakfast TV, then it’s best to start out slowly. Start off with a gentle 10 minute walk and gradually add on more minutes each day.
Up the pace
Once you’re up to 30 minutes at a gentle pace it’s time to move out of stroll mode and into brisk walk mode. It’s roughly 3 miles an hour – basically if you can still talk but can’t sing the words to a song, you’re walking briskly.
Get a fitness buddy
Research by the University of Aberdeen found that working out with a friend had more dramatic results than going solo. Not only have you got someone to keep you company on your walk, but you’ve got double the resolve and are less likely to bale. If you’ve got no mates who are up for a brisk stroll, join a walking group. Ramblers has a section on their website to find groups local to you.
Mix it up
Doing the same exercise week in, week out is fine but you will hit a plateau, especially if you’re walking to lose weight, so try out some different walks to keep it interesting. Either try a new place to walk – perhaps a different park or a local woods - or add some inclines (and repeat several times) to get the heart pumping.
Make it a habit
Make a daily walk a habit and you’re more likely to stick to it. The great thing with walking is you can easily add it to your daily routine for example by walking to work or school, using the stairs instead of the lift, leaving the car behind for short journeys or walking with the family after dinner every night.
Use an app
If you want to improve on your distance or ensure you’re walking to the maximum speed, why not download an app? There are loads out there that measure your distance, calories burnt and even help you find a route but three of our favourites are Active 10, Map My Walk and WalkMeter