Walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking is free and doesn’t require any special equipment or training.
Physical activity does not have to be vigorous or done for long periods in order to improve your health. A 2007 study of inactive women found that even a low level of exercise – around 75 minutes per week – improved their fitness levels significantly, when compared to a non-exercising group.
Walking is low impact, requires minimal equipment, can be done at any time of day and can be performed at your own pace. You can get out and walk without worrying about the risks associated with some more vigorous forms of exercise. Walking is also a great form of physical activity for people who are overweight, elderly, or who haven’t exercised in a long time.
Walking for fun and fitness isn’t limited to strolling by yourself around local neighbourhood streets. There are various clubs, venues and strategies you can use to make walking an enjoyable and social part of your lifestyle.
Health benefits of walking
You carry your own body weight when you walk. This is known as weight-bearing exercise. Some of the benefits include:
• increased cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness
• reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
• improved management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness, and diabetes
• stronger bones and improved balance
• increased muscle strength and endurance
• reduced body fat.
Walking for 30 minutes a day
To get the health benefits, try to walk for at least 30 minutes as briskly as you can on most days of the week. ‘Brisk’ means that you can still talk but not sing, and you may be puffing slightly. Moderate activities such as walking pose little health risk but, if you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program of physical activity.
Building physical activity into your life
If it’s too difficult to walk for 30 minutes at one time, do regular small bouts (10 minutes) three times per day and gradually build up to longer sessions. However, if your goal is to lose weight, you will need to do physical activity for longer than 30 minutes each day. You can still achieve this by starting with smaller bouts of activity throughout the day and increasing these as your fitness improves.
Physical activity built into a daily lifestyle plan is also one of the most effective ways to assist with weight loss and keep weight off once it’s lost.
Make walking part of your routine
Try to make walking a routine – for example, try to walk at the same time each day. Remember, you use the same amount of energy, no matter what time of day you walk, so do what is most convenient for you. You may find that asking someone to walk with you will help make it a regular activity. Some people find that keeping an activity diary or log also makes it easier.
Wearing a pedometer while walking
A pedometer measures the number of steps you take. You can use it to measure your movement throughout a day and compare it to other days or to recommended amounts. This may motivate you to move more. The recommended number of steps accumulated per day to achieve health benefits is 10,000 steps or more.
Footwear for walking
Walking is a low-cost and effective form of exercise. However, the wrong type of shoe or walking action can cause foot or shin pain, blisters and injuries to soft tissue. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, with appropriate heel and arch supports. Take light, easy steps and make sure your heel touches down before your toes. Whenever possible, walk on grass rather than concrete to help absorb the impact.