Five healthy reasons to get walking

Why walking is the perfect fitness and exercise workout

Walking is one of the most natural activities known to humankind — it’s simple, accessible and flexible — and, research shows, it’s beneficial to both mind and body. Walking is a great form of exercise that is free and open to all. It can help develop leg muscles and burn off calories through scenic and social exercise.

There are many reasons to get walking, but here are our top five:

1. Walking is so easy!

To get walking you simply need to open the front door and go. You can go walking on your own, with your dog, your partner, a friend or a group. You can go walking first thing, when the world is just waking up, in the evening, to help shake off the stresses of the day … you can go to the countryside and take in the scenery and fresh air on a day hike, or perhaps make it a purposeful daily journey by commuting to work on foot. And since you don’t need to get changed into specialist equipment for a walk (except for some good supportive walking shoes), you can even go when you have a spare 10 minutes — something you can’t really do with running, swimming or the gym. The unique versatility of walking makes it accessible and achievable for anyone.

2. Walking is great for your heart

Accumulating 30 minutes of walking per day is enough to produce significant heart health benefits, says The Physician and Sportsmedicine journal. In the large-scale Nurses’ Health Study, women who walked briskly (in the study, brisk was defined as a fairly unchallenging three to 4mph (6.4kph) pace) for at least three hours per week, had the same amount of protection against heart disease as women who exercise vigorously for an hour and a half a week — both groups were 30 to 40 per cent less likely to develop heart disease than their sedentary counterparts.

3. Walking may reduce the risk of some cancers

There is some evidence that walking — or other moderate activity — can lower the risk of cancer. A study published in the journal Epidemiology found that those who took up exercise after the menopause had a 30 per cent lower risk of developing breast cancer, while those who had been active throughout their lives had a 42 per cent lower risk than sedentary women. Meanwhile, a large study carried out in Scandinavia found that recreational activity was enough to bring a 40 per cent reduction in the risk of colon cancer.

4. Walking gives you immunity

There’s a fine balance between exercise and the immune system. Doing none at all seems to increase your risk of bacterial and viral infections while doing too much can compromise immunity, too. But moderate exercise, like walking, is the perfect compromise. One study divided 50 people into two groups — one who walked briskly for 45 minutes a day, five days a week, and the other that did not exercise. The walkers experienced half as many colds as the control group. The walkers also showed an increase in natural killer cells, immune system cells that attack bacteria and viruses.

5. Taking up walking is as good for your mind as it is for your body

Being physically fit is associated with mental well-being, including positive mood, reduced anxiety and less depression. Whether that is because mentally healthy people have a greater tendency to be active, or whether people who are active gain some kind of immunity against mental ill-health has not been proven categorically, but given that activity has been successfully prescribed to treat anxiety and mild depression, and throw in its myriad physical benefits, it’s not worth waiting to find out! Walking may be the perfect activity to reduce anxiety, as studies have shown that moderate exercise is more effective than high-intensity exercise. In fact one study found that a single walking session reduced tension as effectively as a tranquiliser, and the effects lasted longer.

So, regular walkers reap many of the benefits that people who engage in far more vigorous activities enjoy, with a lower risk of injury, a higher level of adherence and far more opportunities to fit their activity into a busy day. There is no excuse — so get walking today!

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