Love walking? Free and easy, it's the simplest way to stay active, especially when you're getting older.
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 60failed to manage a brisk 10-minute walkjust once a month. Yet all you need to do is put on a pair of thebest women’s walking shoesand head outside. So, what are you waiting for?
“The health benefits of walking are invaluable,” says Aisling O’Malley, clinical specialist physiotherapist atLondon Bridge Hospital. “It gives you acardiovascular workout, which is great for your heart andlungs. 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 One of the main healthbenefits of walking is bone strength
Did you know that 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 ofhuman 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 to achieve this goal, 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 orincorporating some higher-impact activities(jump roping, jump squats/lunges, box jumps/drops) that are appropriate for your current fitness level will yield better results for improving your bone health.”
2 Walking helps to curb cravings
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 inone study, by the University of Exeter, it was found that a short walk helped people to regulate their intake by half.
3 Walking can fight off major diseases
The risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and obesity can all be reduced by walking more. 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 andreduce the risk of early death by 15%. Plus, theStroke Associationfound 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 thenumber of steps increased, the rate of mortality reduced up to 7,500 steps per day.”
4 It regulates hormones and lower symptoms of the menopause
According to astudy 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 theseverity of your symptoms, particularly when it comes to those related to stress, anxiety and depression.
The study, byTemple University, found that 40 minutes’ walking five times a week was the point at which the benefit kicked in. The good news? 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 burns as much fat as running
Want to slim down?Walking can help burn fat. “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!”
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. Formore fat burn, try swinging your arms to increase your calorie expenditure.
Depending on your weight, look at how many calories you could potentiallyburn 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 can be 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,” saysVikash.“Studies have also shown that walking can reduce feelings of hostility and anger, and improve your sleep.”
When researchers asked people withdepression to walk for 30 minutesthree 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
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 couldreduce their risk of developing dementiaby committing to this easy-to-do activity.