Walking might not seem like the most obvious choice of exercise to drop pounds and get healthy, but believe it or not, it actually is - especially if you're sat down all day.
A study by Cambridge University found that 60 minutes of walking every day can cancel out eight hours of sitting at a desk all day.
It might sound like a grand claim, but the humble walk can reap all sorts of rewards…
Walking is suitable for everyone
“Walking can be a really simple way of improving your fitness levels, suitable for people of any age or weight, and can provide some really great benefits,” says Dr Sally Norton, health expert and weight loss surgeon at Vavista.
Walking lowers blood pressure
“In fact, a recent study from the University of East Anglia has found that group walking could actually cut your risk of life-threatening conditions,” says Dr Norton.
“The research found that people who joined walking groups saw significant falls in average blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, weight, and cholesterol. Pretty impressive.”
Walking encourages more exercise
“The study also found that people who walk in groups tended to have a more positive attitude toward exercise in general,” she adds, “with walking acting as a catalyst for adopting other healthy behaviours.”
Walking can burn over 300 calories an hour
It depends on how fast you walk, and how many hills you’re walking quickly up, but a good brisk walk can easily burn off 300 calories an hour. Do that a few times a week, and in a month, you’ve lost over a pound; in a year, over a stone. All with the added bonus of getting you from A to B.
Walking is kinder to your joints
“When you run, that force on your knees is even greater, perhaps up to eight times your body weight – double that of walking,” explains Norton. She does add that our knees have “their own in-built shock-absorbers and these can cope with large forces over many miles of running”, and that any related problems like arthritis is more down to genetics and body-weight than what sort of exercise you do.
But still, if you do suffer stiff or sore joints, walking is infinitely safer than running.
Walking strengthens your bones
In a similar vein, walking doesn’t just not make joints and bones worse, it actively makes them better. “Walking is a great low impact cardio exercise and ideal if you’re new to exercise,” says Amanda O’Hare, Fitness First personal trainer and ambassador.
“Walking regularly can help to maintain a healthy weight, help to strengthen your bones.” It’s not just the weight-baring side of things either, being outside exposes you to essential bone-building Vitamin D from the sun. And no, it doesn’t actually have to be sunny, though it helps – according to the National Osteoporosis Society, even on cloudy days, your body can still produce Vitamin D from sunlight but it can take a little longer than the 10 minutes exposure they normally recommend.
Walking makes you happier
O’Hare adds that walking “lifts your mood”, especially if you’re out in nature, and she’s backed up by science.
A recent study by the University of Stirling showed a brisk walk was “an effective intervention for depression" and had a similar effect to other, more vigorous forms of exercise; and other research from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) showed people images of nature then measured their responses to stress – it was infinitely lower than before they’d seen the images.
Walking makes you cleverer
A study a couple of years ago showed that children who were driven to school were slower learners than those who walked to school. It’s something that stays with us too – another study in the US in 2012 showed the size of the brain’s hippocampus (the part responsible for memory and spatial reasoning) increased in a group of people aged 50-to-70 when they embarked on a year-long programme of three-weekly, 40-minute walks.
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