By Faye M Smith
There are more benefits of walking than it just being free and easy. Walking is the simplest way to stay active, especially when you're getting older.
All you need is a pair of one of the best women's walking shoes and you're ready to reap the rewards! So, what are you waiting for?
And we're not exaggerating – the health benefits of walking are almost endless. But, that doesn't mean we're all doing enough. Sadly, Public Health England (PHE) found that 6.3 million Brits aged between 40 and 60 failed to manage a brisk 10-minute walk just once a month.
“The health benefits of walking are invaluable,” says Aisling O’Malley, clinical specialist physiotherapist at London Bridge Hospital. “It gives you a cardiovascular workout, which is great for your heart and lungs. Plus, it also helps to strengthen the main muscles of your lower limbs and aids in maintaining healthy bone density.”
Here’s everything you need to know about the health benefits of walking:
1. Walking regularly will boost bone strength
The benefits of walking are really important if you're at menopause age. That's because women who walk at least one mile a day have a higher bone density after menopause than those who walk less.
“Exercise can help delay the rate of age-related bone loss,” says Craig Sale, professor of human physiology at Nottingham Trent University. “Bone is a living tissue, so it grows stronger with the force of our muscles pulling against it.”
However, if you really want better bone health, you may need to increase your speed. “If you are looking to build up your bone density, you will need to increase the impact on joints and bones,” says Vikash Sharma, a doctor of physical therapy at New York City’s Perfect Stride Physical Therapy.
“This is to stimulate change and new bone cells to grow. So, walking faster or incorporating some higher-impact activities will help. Try rope jumping, jump squats, lunges, box jumps and drops that are appropriate for your current fitness level. This will yield better results for improving your bone health.”
We'd suggest getting hold of a pair of the best walking socks too so that you can have some extra support during your walks.
2. You're less likely to snack the more you walk
Trying to lose weight, but keep sabotaging your diet by snacking? A 15-minute walk, mid-afternoon, could stop you reaching for the biscuit tin.
Snacking on high-calorie foods, such as crisps and chocolate, can become a mindless habit that leads to weight gain. But in one study, by the University of Exeter, it was found that a short walk helped people to regulate their intake by half.
3. Walking can help fight off major diseases
More benefits of walking include a lower risk of experiencing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and obesity. And the good news? You don’t need to walk for miles to get results. “Movement is medicine, and walking is a very easily accessible form of movement for nearly everyone,” says Vikash.
In fact, NHS evidence suggests that 10 minutes a day of brisk walking can prevent or improve chronic health conditions and reduce the risk of early death by 15%. Plus, the Stroke Association found that just 30 minutes of brisk walking can help to prevent and control high blood pressure.
“A research study conducted in 2019 aimed to see if an increased number of steps per day meant lower mortality rates among elderly women,” says Vikash. “This study concluded that women who averaged at least 4,400 steps a day had a significantly reduced mortality rate compared with women who only took 2,700 steps per day. Also, as the number of steps increased, the rate of mortality reduced up to 7,500 steps per day.”
4. Walking eases symptoms of the menopause
According to a study by the American Cancer Society, women who walk regularly after the menopause may lower their risk of breast cancer – even when doing no other form of exercise. It’s believed that walking for at least an hour a day cuts the risk by 14%. This is because it regulates levels of hormones that can encourage breast tumours to grow.
Plus, if you’re going through the menopause, walking could reduce the severity of your symptoms, particularly when it comes to those related to stress, anxiety and depression.
The study, by Temple University, found that 40 minutes of walking five times a week was the point at which the benefit kicked in. Plus, that didn’t have to be done all at once. Researchers also found that walking can help reduce stress in post-menopausal women, too.
5. Walking can burn as much fat as running
Want to slim down? One of the best benefits of walking is that you can burn fat without pushing yourself to the limits. For example, if you're on a treadmill, simply walking on an incline can help.
“Walking does offer many of the same health benefits as running, without the risk of injury that running does,” says Vikash. “Just make sure to do so in a progressive and systematic manner. At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that the best routine is going to be one that you are able to stick to and stay consistent with.”
The reason it works is because lower-intensity exercises, such as walking, actually force the body to burn more body fat. Your body is more likely to burn existing fat stores with this lower-intensity exercise than it is when you’re running at a higher tempo. For more fat burn, try swinging your arms to increase your calorie expenditure.
Depending on your weight, look at how many calories you could potentially burn with an hour of walking:
- 170 calories = walking at a leisurely 2mph pace.
- 250 calories = stepping it up to a moderate 3mph.
- 300 calories = hitting a brisk 4mph.
“If you’re climbing hills, walking at a faster pace or using intervals in your walking routine, you are sure to increase the number of calories you burn,” adds Vikash.
6. Walking is a natural mood booster
If you want to shake off a bad mood, lace up your trainers and set off.
“Walking can most definitely improve your mood,” says Vikash. “Studies have also shown that walking can reduce feelings of hostility and anger, and improve your sleep.”
When researchers asked people with depression to walk for 30 minutes three times a week for 16 weeks, they found it had similar mood-boosting effects to antidepressant medication.
“Modern living often sees a lot of stresses in both the workplace and at home, which can have an impact on your mental health,” says Aisling. “Walking is crucial in helping you to overcome these pressures, by giving you fresh air and clearing your mind.” Next time you’re slumped on the sofa, get up and give it a go.
7. Walking boosts your brain power as you age
Ever wondered why you’re able to solve a problem, or have a great idea while out on a stroll?
Walking increases blood flow to the brain, which in turn has cognitive benefits. Research suggests that people over the age of 65 could reduce their risk of developing dementia by committing to this easy-to-do activity.
Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of theHealth Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021.
Currently Acting Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships. In fact, having previously been the go-to sex columnist for Now magazine, there isn't much she won't discuss when it comes to women's health. This makes her the best person to review must-buy sex toys, describe how to have a mind-blowing orgasm or explain how to navigate sex in the shower without it ending in a medical emergency.
While not anti-gym, Faye’s fitness routine is more focussed on finding inner balance rather than burning excess calories. An advocate of mindfulness, she loves power breathing, yoga and plenty of walking in nearby woodlands rather than a sweaty HIIT class. Follow her @fayetuned
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