Health benefits of walking

If you’re after a simple and effective way to improve and maintain your health, walking is it. Thirty minutes of walking each day is enough to increase your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your bones, boost your muscles, increase your endurance and reduce excess body fat. Walking also means you can reduce your risks of certain conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and osteoporosis. One of the best things about walking is that it is free. What’s more, you don’t need any training or special equipment – you’ve probably been walking since around 12 months old!

In order to improve your health, you don’t need to do long periods of vigorous activity. Even a low level of exercise can significantly improve your fitness compared to inactive people.

Walking is great because it can be done whenever you have the time and you can do it at your own pace. You don’t need to worry about any associated risks as you do with other forms of exercise. Even if you’re elderly, overweight or haven’t exercised for a while, you can still get out and walk.

Specific benefits to health from walking

When you walk, you are carrying your own bodyweight. This means that walking is classed as a weight-bearing exercise. Here are some of the health benefits:

  • You will increase your pulmonary and cardiovascular fitness. This means your heart and lungs will work more efficiently
  • You will reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease
  • You will be able to better manage some existing medical conditions like joint pain, muscular pain, stiffness, hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • You will have improved balance and stronger bones
  • Your muscles will be stronger and you will have increased endurance
  • You will reduce your excess body fat

Thirty minutes per day

In order to get the maximum health benefits from walking, you should aim to walk for a minimum of 30 minutes each day. Ideally, your walk should be brisk. This means that you can still hold a conversation but you wouldn’t be able to sing and you might be breathing slightly heavier. There is little risk with walking but if you do have a medical condition or have been very inactive for a long time, it’s a good idea to check with your GP before you start.

Make it a routine

If you can’t motivate yourself to step outside for 30 minutes for a walk around the neighbourhood or countryside, see if you can manage to squeeze in three small 10-minute bouts per day. This is also a good idea for those who struggle to walk briskly for thirty minutes initially.

One of the best ways of getting your walking done is to build it into your daily routine. This will mean you always do it. Some ideas are:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator
  • Get off public transport earlier and walk to work or home
  • Walk to the local shops if you normally drive
  • Walk the dog (or a neighbour’s/friend’s/relative’s dog)

Things become a routine when they fall naturally into your day. To help get a routine going, try walking at the same time every day. You could also ask a friend to walk with you as a regular thing. A log or diary might help motivate you too.

How fitness trackers can help

A pedometer or fitness tracker can help you keep track of your walking. A pedometer will count how many steps you take. The recommendation is to walk 10,000 steps per day. By walking with a pedometer for a day, you will be able to see how close you are to the recommendation.

Many fitness trackers also record other data such as your resting heart rate. Generally speaking, the lower your resting heart rate is, the fitter you are. With a fitness tracker, you will be able to see how your resting heart rate changes when you increase your physical activity.

Walking clubs in Suffolk

Suffolk has a wide range of walking clubs and walking associations. Here are a few:

Dog walking

If you don’t own a dog you can still walk dogs. There are many organisations like Share Your Pet, where you can borrow a dog to take on a walk. Many elderly people will often welcome dog walkers too.