Walking is great for your health – it works all of your major muscle groups, gets your heart pumping and can even boost your mood. Scientists believe that a daily walk could reduce your risk of all sorts of age-related health problems.
Take an extra 2000 steps a day (that’s about 20 minutes of walking) and you could reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by eight per cent. Walk a bit further and after 45 minutes you’ll have burned 20 per cent more fat than your friends who don’t walk, and you’ll have a lower risk of diabetes say scientists at Newcastle University. US scientists have even discovered that good walk could help to ease menopausal mood swings, reduce stress and soothe anxiety.
Take your walk outside into a beautiful natural setting and you’ll reap even more benefits. Researchers at the University of Essex found that spending time exercising in green surroundings gives you an added wellbeing boost and helps to beat stress.
If you really want to get the benefits from your walk a gentle ramble won’t do. You need to stride out with purpose, at a pace that allows you to just hold a conversation – if you can chat away comfortably you’re not walking fast enough. Keep your pace steady and smooth because a study from Canterbury Christ Church University found that walking at a constant pace at about 50 per cent of your maximum effort is the most effective way to lower your blood pressure.
Try to walk with good posture, think tall, and pull up from the crown of your head to straighten your spine and gently open out your chest to push your shoulders back. Poor posture could put extra strain on your joints. Pull in your stomach muscles to support your spine. But most of all enjoy your walk, breath in the fresh air and relax.
If you haven’t done much walking before or are unused to exercising, ease yourself in gently. Start with a short walk – but do it everyday – no matter what the weather. Warm up by walking at a steady pace for 5 minutes, then speed up a little bit until you find it hard to hold a conversation and try to walk at this pace for 5-10 minutes. When it becomes difficult slow back down for 5 minutes until your breathing is steady again. To begin with this might be more than enough, but as you get fitter you can start to walk for longer or do two sessions of faster walking with a slow break in between.
Anything can become boring if you do it over and over again – and walking is no exception. Keep yourself interested by varying your routes and setting yourself goals. Try increasing the length of your walk or aim to cover the same distance in a shorter time. Explore new areas (but always tell someone where you’re going) and for an added health boost plan your walk so there are few hills en route. Having friends to talk to as you walk makes exercising more fun – try joining a local walking club or set up your own, it’s a great way to make new friends.