The scores of conflicting information available on exercise can easily result in confusion, and this can dampen one’s enthusiasm. Being confused from the off is never a good way to approach what is meant to be a positive and healthful action.
In this guide, we let go of all of the confusion and bring it back to the most fundamental exercise practice, walking.
Walking for mental health
It is well known that walking is important for physical health, but many people forget about the mental health benefits associated with walking.
There are many reasons why walking is thought to be beneficial for mental health. Being outdoors, and especially in nature, is thought to increase happiness . Taking walks in green spaces may also help people to better manage stress, with research showing that individuals who regularly walk in nature have lower levels of the inflammatory marker ‘c-reactive protein’ . For many, walking can be a form of meditation, a well-known stress-busting practice.
In addition to finding zen in nature, the physical act of walking is also good for mental wellbeing. Physical activities like walking actually stimulate the release of chemicals known as endorphins. These chemicals help to relieve stress/anxiety and trigger feelings of happiness.
The importance of exercise for good health can’t be overstated. Sedentary lifestyles are a leading factor in the development of a multiplicity of diseases including cardiovascular disease, various forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis.
Walking is an excellent way to keep your heart healthy. There are a multitude of studies that show walking to be very beneficial for heart health . This is thought to be, in part, related to walking’s ability to decrease blood pressure and resting heart rate, thus putting less strain on the heart.
Another great thing about walking is that it actually decreases the likelihood of having a stroke . Prevention is the best medicine, and lowering your stroke risk can be pivotal in living a longer, healthier life.
Osteoporosis, a disease related to the decrease in bone density, becomes more common as you age. Although you can’t stop the eventual weakening of bones as you age, you can slow down the process significantly. Regular walking practices have been shown to increase bone density in people with osteoporosis .
Walking after a meal can be an effective way to help to control your blood glucose. Regularly going for walks has also been shown to increase insulin sensitivity . This is important as insulin resistance – when insulin sensitivity is very low - can result in elevated blood glucose levels.
A huge benefit of walking is that almost anyone can do it. People of all ages and activity levels can reap the benefits of a good walk. Unlike running which is quite high impact and likely to result in injury, walking is low impact and far less likely to aggravate old injuries or cause new ones.
In addition to being low impact, one of the biggest benefits of walking is that it is free. There are no join-up fees, expensive equipment costs or personal trainer payments. Just get some sturdy footwear and weather appropriate clothing and you’re off.
It can be worked into practically any lifestyle. Small changes like parking 15 minutes away from work, going for a walk during your lunch break, taking phone calls whilst walking and walking to the shops instead of driving are all tiny changes that may have huge benefits
- Richardson, M., Cormack, A., McRobert, L. and Underhill, R. (2016). 30 Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being. PLOS ONE, 11(2).
- Hutton.ac.uk. (2018). CONTRIBUTION OF GREEN AND OPEN SPACE TO PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELLBEING. [online] Available at: https://www.hutton.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/projects/GreenHealth-Final-Report.pdf [Accessed 5 Sep. 2018].
- Murtagh, E., Nichols, L., Mohammed, M., Holder, R., Nevill, A. and Murphy, M. (2014). Walking to improve cardiovascular health: a meta-analysis of randomised control trials. The Lancet, 384, p.S54.
- Jefferis, B., Whincup, P., Papacosta, O. and Wannamethee, S. (2013). Protective Effect of Time Spent Walking on Risk of Stroke in Older Men. Stroke, 45(1), pp.194-199.
- Yamazaki, S., Ichimura, S., Iwamoto, J., Takeda, T. and Toyama, Y. (2004). Effect of walking exercise on bone metabolism in postmenopausal women with osteopenia/osteoporosis. Journal of Bone and Mineral Metabolism, 22(5).
- Hong, H., Jeong, J., Kong, J., Lee, S., Yang, S., Ha, C. and Kang, H. (2014). Effect of walking exercise on abdominal fat, insulin resistance and serum cytokines in obese women. Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry, 18(3), pp.277-285.