Nat Barnes highlights some of the benefits of walking, including tips for getting started and making walking part of your everyday routine
The majority of us learn how to do it when babies, it’s cheap, easy to do and, best of all, free, so why don’t more of us walk for exercise?
When it comes to keeping fit, in recent years all too often the spotlight has been focussed on more extreme examples of taking exercise. From gym membership to fat-burning high intensity workouts, it seems there is always a new fashion or fad that everyone is raving about.
And among all of those fads and trends, among all of the exercise advice that you can’t ignore for being too difficult or too much like hard work, is the simple act of walking. There’s little doubt that walking is easily one of the most overlooked forms of exercise. For starters, the majority of us can do it without much difficulty, it’s an easy form of exercise to build into your everyday routine and, as we said earlier, you don’t need any specialist equipment or expensive gym membership to do it.
So where do you begin? As silly as that sounds, walking for exercise is actually slightly different than you just heading out for a simple stroll. While running may be more physically demanding in terms of a workout, walking is probably a better choice of exercise for more people.
Not only is walking a simple form of exercise to help you reach any goals for fitness and weight-loss, it’s also preferable over running for those who are overweight or obese and also those who suffer from knee, ankle or back problems. The reason why is that it’s a much lower impact form of exercise and can be done for longer periods of time.
As when starting any new exercise, the trick is to start slowly. If you’re not very active, but are still able to walk, just increase your walking pace and distance gradually. If you suffer from any problems with your joints, then check out your local swimming pool – the chances are that they will run exercise classes of some sort or, alternatively, you could just walk while in the pool. It may sound crazy, but you’ll find it surprisingly hard work and the water will help to support your joints as you move, helping you to strengthen your muscle tissue.
So how fast should you be aiming to walk? A brisk walk is classified as around three miles an hour, which is faster than you might do a casual stroll. A good way to judge is if you can still talk but can’t really sing the words to a song. If you’re just starting out, then download the NHS Active 10 Walking Tracker app. This tracks all your walks and will show how many minutes were classified as brisk. It also stores up to 12 months of walking activity, helping you to set goals and record your progress.
Government guidance is to walk 10,000 steps a day which equates to around five to six miles. To calculate the number of calories you’ll burn during walking briskly, simply multiply your weight in pounds by 0.57. Generally speaking though, a twenty minute walk burns the same number of calories as running a mile in ten minutes.
But the benefits of walking aren’t just limited to calorie-burning. It also improves blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain, stimulating the development of new brain cells. Furthermore, it has been suggested that a 30 minute walk a day can protect against type 2 diabetes, reduce the risk of some cancers and help to combat depression, while also improving mobility and reducing the chance of hip fractures among older adults.
Marketing consultant Peter Brown has long been an advocate of regular walking:
“I started when I lived in London as I suddenly realised that a lot of the tube stations were within easy walking distance. I would walk a lot around London and then found that I felt in much better shape than when I used to regularly go to the gym,” he explains. “I’ve since moved to the country, but now have a dog which forces me out for a walk twice a day, rain or shine. Even if I don’t feel in the mood for it, I always return feeling better. I also get to enjoy nature much more and felt that it really helped my mental state especially during lockdown.”
Of course, regular walking on pavements or in parks is easily done in a pair of trainers or other soft shoes, but if you’re venturing further afield, it’s probably wise to invest in a pair of shoes with good ankle and foot support. You can go for a proper pair of hiking boots, but it’s not absolutely necessary and there are now plenty of trail shoes on the market which you’ll find lighter and easier to wear for longer periods of time.
If you’re heading onto rougher ground or towpaths, trail shoes or hiking boots will offer extra grip too. The same goes for some good walking socks too. Normal socks are fine, but your feet will thank you for proper socks on longer walks.
As well as your footwear, if you need some extra support in the form of an ankle or knee brace, then just ask your local pharmacy as they will be able to advise on the different levels of support they can offer.
Again, while not immediately necessary, if you’re walking longer distances or over uneven ground, then consider a hiking pole or two for extra support and also buying some waterproof clothing and a good backpack for carrying water and some snacks. You may not always need them, but there’s no harm in always being prepared.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need to walk on your own either. Even the briefest of online searches will find local walking groups or you could check out your local newspaper or library for guided walks in your area that might help you to learn more about your region. Alternatively, there’s also the Ramblers which has more than 100,000 members across England, Scotland and Wales and leads a range of group-led walks in both towns and the countryside with a range of difficulty levels.
So whether you decide to join a group walk or head out individually, start slowly and work your way up to longer distances or just head out to learn more about your local area, you’ll find that there’s a lot more to walking than you might have first imagine. And, best of all, it’s as easy and simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
✚ Start slowly with short times and distances and build up from there, don’t be tempted to overdo it on your first walks.
✚ Consider downloading the NHS Active 10 APP, it will show your progress and help to keep you motivated.
✚ Don’t blow the budget on specialised walking kit immediately. Just buy it as and when you need it.
✚ Always take some water and snacks with you, perhaps in a small backpack. Better to have them and not need them, than need them and not have them.
✚ If you don’t fancy walking alone, then consider joining the ramblers or ask around for local walking groups.