Today marks the end of May, and with that the end of National Walking Month 2023 – an event designed to promote the benefits of walking for both physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Before reading on, take a moment to consider: How much walking did I do over the last month? More than normal? Not as much? Do I even know?
The benefits of walking as a form of exercise are often underestimated - it is simple, free, and one of the easiest ways we can get active and become healthier. When walking at a moderate intensity, the activity becomes cardiovascular exercise, which means its main physiological benefit is to our hearts! As we walk, our heart rates increase (even if only modestly), which in turn improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure. As with all types of exercise, feel-good hormones called endorphins are released, and when coupled with increased oxygen transport around the body via the blood stream, can help with increasing energy levels.
Walking can help improve sleep quality, particularly when taken in the afternoon/early evening, as it helps us relax. Adequate sleep quality and quantity is essential for proper brain health and function, which could be one reason why regular walking is also associated with improved levels of concentration and focus.
Walking also plays an important role in improving our mental or emotional health. Rhythmic activities have been shown to have a calming effect, and as we exercise more and start to notice the benefits to our body, our self-esteem can improve, helping us feel better about ourselves.
In today’s fast paced world, it can sometimes be a struggle to meet the recommended levels of exercise:
- 150mins of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise weekly, or;
- 75mins of vigorous cardiovascular exercise weekly, or;
- A combination of both.
Walking is a great way to boost our minutes and supplement weekly totals. It doesn’t have to be performed as a stand-alone exercise, for example, consider walking to the shops and back rather than driving – it all counts!
Even if we don’t achieve these targets at first, doing something is better than nothing. Previous research has demonstrated that even doing only half of the recommended amount of weekly exercise can help prevent 1 in 20 cases of cardiovascular disease and 1 in 30 cancer cases.
So even now National Walking Month is drawing to a close, this doesn’t mean you have to stop walking! As we continue to walk regularly, remember these top tips to help you stay active:
- Work within your capabilities
It is far easier to achieve a smaller goal and build on that gradually, than it is to achieve a grandiose one. It may be that we start with a 5minute walk around the block during our lunch hour, before gradually upscaling this to 10, 15 or 20minutes, and so on.
- Habit stacking: Pair the walk with other enjoyable activities
“Habit stacking” is when we pair one behaviour or habit which we enjoy with a new one we are trying to implement. For example, to escape work for 15minutes each day you decide to listen to your favourite album or podcast - habit stacking would be continuing to do this but whilst going out for a walk.
- Remember that variety is the spice of life
Try to vary your walking routes so you avoid seeing he same things day in, day out. This will help with enjoyment and engagement, as activities that don’t stimulate us seldom stay as priorities for long. Similarly, you may discover new places to visit, like a scenic spot to go with the family at the weekend, or a new coffee shop that has opened around the corner.
- Choose your footwear wisely
Walking footwear should provide sufficient comfort and support to not overstress the joints further up the body. We don’t want to start compounding problems by picking up the wrong pair of shoes!