8 health benefits of walking

Posted in: Wellbeing Last updated: 18 Sep 2014

Zumba, yoga and running get plenty of attention when it comes to staying healthy. There is, however, a much more straightforward yet beneficial workout that’s open to almost anyone. Walking.

Walking may be a gentle, low-impact form of exercise, but it still has a huge range of benefits. In the words of fitness professional Jolynn Baca Jaekel, “What I love about walking is that anyone can do it at any age and any fitness level. Plus it is good for your heart, your head and your wallet.”

Getting your RDA of exercise

When it comes to exercise in general, the NHS recommend that adults should be active every day. Over a week, your activity should add up to at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity; or in other words, 30 minutes of exercise on at least five days per week, such as cycling or walking.
Even though 30 minutes is the ideal amount of time, research from Harvard Medical School suggests that you could start with three shorter 10 minute walks, building up to a 30 minute walk once you feel comfortable. It’s all about taking it at your own pace; starting slowly and then building up.

Preparing to walk

Walking is a great way to stay active as you don’t need expensive kit or advanced planning to do it. In fact, a good pair of walking boots or trainers, plus warm and waterproof clothes and some water, is all you need for a short and comfortable walk.
Remember to engage your core muscles (in other words, tighten your stomach muscles) as you walk and stand up straight, letting your arms swing naturally. And that’s it, you’re ready to go.

The benefits of walking

  1. It helps you maintain a healthy weight. Walking is a reliable yet low-impact way to effectively burn calories. In 30 minutes, you could burn between 75 and 150 calories, whilst increasing your muscle mass and tone and speeding up your metabolism. Walking also helps to improve your balance, reducing your risk of falls.
  2. It lowers your risk of certain diseases. Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes by balancing your cholesterol levels and keeping your blood pressure in check. It can also reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, asthma and some cancers (including breast and colon cancer) by around 20%.
  3. It’s good for your metal health. Exercise releases endorphins into your bloodstream; chemicals that help to reduce stress and anxiety. As a result, studies have shown that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in cases of mild to moderate depression. Not only this, but regular exercise can also increase your self-esteem and help you sleep better.
  4. It can help to prevent dementia. Dementia is a common condition that affects around 800,000 people in the UK, often leading to problems with memory and understanding. Being active has a positive effect on brain function and could reduce the risk of dementia by up to 40%.
  5. It gives you energy. A brisk walk is naturally energising as it boosts your circulation and increases oxygen supply to your cells, helping you to feel more awake. Walking outside can also boost your Vitamin D levels; a vitamin which plays a key role in bone health and immunity.
  6. It’s a great social activity. Joining a walking group or walking with friends is a great way to feel healthier and happier. It’s also a productive way to explore your local area.
  7. Connect with nature. To get the very most from your walk, head out into the country. Mental health charity Mind found in their report ‘Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health’ that country walks are even more beneficial for mental health and self-esteem. Walking can also help the planet; if everyone swapped one car journey a week for walking, car traffic would reduce by at least 10%.
  8. Save money. The average person could save around £160 every year by walking instead of driving the journey to work or the shops. Just remember to bring someone with you, to carry the shopping back again.

It’s no surprise that walking is beneficial to our physical health, but you may be pleasantly surprised at the many benefits to your mental health and wellbeing too. If you’re thinking of taking up walking, take a look at the NHS guidelines for physical activity for older adults for more information.

Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Hub content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions. OneFamily do not provide advice so it may be worth speaking to an independent financial advisor about your own circumstances.