Walk your way to better health
When was the last time you walked for the simple pleasure of it?
If it’s not something you do regularly, you might not be aware of the health benefits a daily walk can bring to your physical and mental health. Today, we’re going to look at these benefits, and see if we can convince you to start this powerful daily habit if you aren’t doing so already!
Walk This Way
When you think of getting a workout in, walking probably isn’t what first pops into your mind, more likely you think of activities like jogging, weightlifting, or swimming.
Nevertheless, while walking is less intensive than the exercises mentioned above, it is still extremely beneficial for your health. In fact, if you are elderly or recovering from an injury, walking can be even more beneficial and advisable than a more intense form of exercise.
Let’s take a look at some of the health benefits you’re likely to experience when you start walking for just 30 minutes a day:
- You will burn more calories. At a brisk pace, you will burn around 200 calories in 30 minutes, making walking a good way of keeping yourself in shape, especially when combined with a healthy balanced diet.
- Your overall heart health and circulation will start to improve. This will reduce your chances of developing heart conditions as you age.
- Decline of bone density will slow down. This will help keep your bones healthy and strong. Bone density decline is something that happens to us all after our 30’s. Walking regularly to negate this will help reduce the chances of developing osteoporosis later in life.
- You will feel generally happier. As we discussed in a previous blog, exercise makes us feel good, due to the release of hormones called endorphins. By completing a daily walk, you’ll get a daily release of these feel-good hormones, and a daily boost to your mood!
- Your digestion will improve. When you walk, you engage your core abdominal muscles which will help with bowel movements and keep everything running smoothly.
- Your joint health will improve. Most joint cartilage has no direct blood supply and instead relies on nutrition coming from joint fluid that circulates as we move. The movement we produce when walking helps feed oxygen and nutrients into the joints, keeping them healthy and reducing your chances of developing osteoarthritis as you age.
- Walking can slow your mental decline, and potentially reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s by half in adults who walk at least 6 miles a week.
Your First Steps
At a brisk pace, you should be aiming to cover between 1.5 to 2 miles in 30 minutes. So get yourself onto Google maps and plan a circuit, this way you will know where you’re going and how much distance you’ll be covering.
If you found the distance is too far, or too short for your pace, adjust your route appropriately so you can complete the full distance in 30 minutes. You’ll find the more you walk, the easier it will get, and you’ll start to cover more distance in less time, so change your route up as often as you need to.
Also, remember, it’s a walk, not a run. You shouldn’t finish your route exhausted and gasping for air, but you should still feel an increase in your heart rate and breathing.
It’s More Than Just a Workout for Your Body
Walking not only provides health benefits to your body, it’s also incredibly beneficial to your mental health!
We already mentioned the decreased risk of Alzheimer’s and the mood-boosting effects that endorphins provide, but walking can provide some less tangible benefits too. Especially if you’re lucky enough to be able to walk through nature, whether that be a trail through the woods, through a nature reserve or even a public park.
Most cities have open green spaces or parks you can walk in, so while you might have to do a bit of research, there is almost always somewhere close by where you can connect with nature.
But what benefits does a nature walk provide over an urban one?
Well, the quieter and more natural environment means you have a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness, something that can be difficult when surrounded by the distractions of built-up urban environments.
If you have never tried mindful walking before, it’s a very meditative and calming experience, and the perfect way to unwind at the end of a busy day.
You don’t have to be spiritual or an expert in meditation to try mindful walking, just follow these simple tips:
- Before you even put your shoes on, take a moment to clear your mind. Forget about your to-do list, put your phone on silent (or better yet leave it at home) and allow yourself to be in the present moment.
- Since you’re not thinking about your phone, your tasks for tomorrow, or how your day went, you will have plenty of time to notice everything around you in the right here and now.
Take note of your breathing, Pay attention to each breath, how the air feels when it fills your lungs, and how it begins to quicken as your walk progresses. Next, notice the sights, smells and sounds around you. Feel the ground beneath your feet, listen to the wind and animals rustling the greenery around you. Work through each of your senses to see how each makes you feel.
After a bit of practice, it will get easier to turn off your brain, and slip into “mindfulness mode”.
- Be mindful of your body. Feel your heart rate and temperature rising, your muscles supporting you, and be conscious of your posture.
- While your daily walk is a perfect opportunity to listen to your favourite podcast, music, or audiobook, try to resist the urge if you intend to make your walk a mindful one. The goal is to stay in the moment, so keep your distractions to a minimum.
- If you chance upon a particularly pleasant spot, it’s perfectly okay to take a pause and spend a few minutes appreciating the universal intelligence around you.
Starting your new walking habit
To reap the health benefits, it’s recommended you walk for at least 30 minutes a day, but if that is too much for you at the start, don’t let that put you off.
If you can only walk for 10 minutes, start there and gradually build up. Start taking the stairs instead of the lift, walk to the shop instead of taking the car, or get off the bus a stop earlier than you normally would.
Our bodies are great at adapting, so by taking little steps to include more miles into your week you will soon develop the stamina required to finish your full 30-minute walk!
So there you have our guide to walking yourself to better health. It’s now down to you. The only thing left to do is get those walking shoes on, get out there in nature and start reaping the benefits of walking.