Benefits of walking

Walking strengthens your heart

Reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by walking regularly. It's great cardio exercise, lowering levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. The Stroke Association says that a brisk 30-minute walk every day helps to prevent and control the high blood pressure that causes strokes, reducing the risk by up to 27 percent.

Walking lowers disease risk

A regular walking habit slashes the risk of type 2 diabetes by around 60 percent, and you're 20 percent less likely to develop cancer of the colon, breast or womb with an active hobby such as walking.

Walking helps you lose weight

You'll burn around 75 calories simply by walking at 2mph for 30 minutes. Up your speed to 3mph and it's 99 calories, while 4mph is 150 calories (equivalent to three Jaffa cakes and a jam doughnut!). Work that short walk into your daily routine and you'll shed the pounds in no time.

Walking prevents dementia

Older people who walk six miles or more per week are more likely to avoid brain shrinkage and preserve memory as the years pass. Since dementia affects one in 14 people over 65 and one in six over 80, we reckon that's a pretty great idea.

Walking tones up legs, bums and tums

Give definition to calves, quads and hamstrings while lifting your glutes (bum muscles) with a good, regular walk. Add hill walking into the mix and it's even more effective. Pay attention to your posture and you'll also tone your abs and waist.

Walking boosts vitamin D

We all need to get outside more. Many people in the UK are vitamin D deficient, affecting important things like bone health and our immune systems. Walking is the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors while getting your vitamin D fix.

Walking gives you energy

You'll get more done with more energy, and a brisk walk is one of the best natural energisers around. It boosts circulation and increases oxygen supply to every cell in your body, helping you to feel more alert and alive. Try walking on your lunch break to achieve more in the afternoon.

Walking makes you happy

It's true – exercise boosts your mood. Studies show that a brisk walk is just as effective as antidepressants in mild to moderate cases of depression, releasing feel-good endorphins while reducing stress and anxiety. So for positive mental health, walking's an absolute must.

Consider your technique

Turning your normal walk into a fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements. Ideally, here's how you'll look when you're walking:

  • Your head is up. You're looking forward, not at the ground.
  • Your neck, shoulders and back are relaxed, not stiffly upright.
  • You're swinging your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows. A little pumping with your arms is OK.
  • Your stomach muscles are slightly tightened and your back is straight, not arched forward or backward.
  • You're walking smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.

Plan your routine

As you start your walking routine, remember to:

  • Get the right gear. Choose shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock. Wear comfortable clothes and gear appropriate for various types of weather. If you walk outdoors when it's dark, wear bright colors or reflective tape for visibility.
  • Choose your course carefully. If you'll be walking outdoors, avoid paths with cracked sidewalks, potholes, low-hanging limbs or uneven turf. If the weather isn't appropriate for walking, consider walking in a shopping mall that offers open times for walkers.
  • Warm up. Walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for exercise.
  • Cool down. At the end of your walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to help your muscles cool down.
  • Stretch. After you cool down, gently stretch your muscles. If you'd rather stretch before you walk, remember to warm up first.

Set realistic goals

For most healthy adults, it is recommended that at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity a week. Physical activity can be spread throughout the week. The guidelines also recommend strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups at least twice a week.

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you can't set aside that much time, try several 10-minute sessions throughout the day.

Remember, though, it's OK to start slowly — especially if you haven't been exercising regularly. You might start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes.

Track your progress

Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes can help you see where you started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Just think how good you'll feel when you see how many miles you've walked each week, month or year.

Record these numbers in a walking journal or log them in a spreadsheet or a physical activity app. Another option is to use an electronic device such as a pedometer to calculate steps and distance.

Stay motivated

Starting a walking program takes initiative. Sticking with it takes commitment. To stay motivated:

  • Set yourself up for success. Start with a simple goal, such as, "I'll take a 10-minute walk during my lunch break." When your 10-minute walk becomes a habit, set a new goal, such as, "I'll walk for 20 minutes after work." Find specific times for walks. Soon you could be reaching for goals that once seemed impossible.
  • Make walking enjoyable. If you don't enjoy solitary walks, ask a friend or neighbor to join you. If you're invigorated by groups, join a health club. You might like listening to music while you walk.
  • Vary your routine. If you walk outdoors, plan several different routes for variety. If you're walking alone, be sure to tell someone which route you're taking. Walk in safe, well-lit locations.
  • Take missed days in stride. If you find yourself skipping your daily walks, don't give up. Remind yourself how good you feel when you include physical activity in your daily routine, and then get back on track.

Once you take that first step, you're on the way to an important destination — better health.

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