Walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. Just 30 minutes a day can improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and increase muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce the risk of developing diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some cancers. Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking is free and does not require any special equipment or training.
Physical activity doesn’t have to be vigorous or done for long periods of time to improve your health. A 2007 study of inactive women found that even a low level of exercise – about 75 minutes per week – significantly improved their fitness compared to a non-exercising group.
Walking has a low impact, requires minimal equipment, can be practiced any time of the day, and can be done 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 have not exercised for a long time.
Walking for fun and fitness is not limited to strolling alone in the streets of the neighborhood. There are different clubs, places, and strategies you can use to make walking an enjoyable and social part of your lifestyle.
Health Benefits of Walking
You carry your own weight when you walk. This is called the weight-bearing exercise. Some of the benefits include:
- improvement of cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness (heart and lung)
- reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
- improved management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscle pain or stiffness, and diabetes
- stronger bones and better balance
- increased muscle strength and endurance
- reduced body fat.
Walk 30 minutes a day
To get the health benefits, try to walk for at least 30 minutes as fast as possible almost every day of the week. “Brisk” means that you can still speak but not sing, and that you may be breathing lightly. Moderate activities such as walking pose little health risk, but if you have a medical condition, consult your doctor before starting any new physical activity exercise program.
Make physical activity part of your life
If it is too difficult to walk for 30 minutes at a time, do small, regular fights (10 minutes) three times a day and gradually build up to longer sessions. However, if your goal is to lose weight, you will need to be physically active for more than 30 minutes each day. You can always achieve this by starting with smaller periods of activity throughout the day and increasing them as your fitness improves.
Getting physical activity into a daily lifestyle plan is also one of the most effective ways to help lose weight and maintain the weight once it has been lost.
Here are some suggestions for making walking part of your daily routine:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator (for at least part of the trip).
- Get off public transport one stop earlier and walk to work or home.
- Walk (do not drive) to local stores.
- Walk the dog (or your neighbor’s dog).
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 works best for you. You may find that having someone walk with you will help make it a regular activity. Some people find that keeping an activity journal or journal also makes it easier.
Wear 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. It can motivate you to move more. The recommended number of steps accumulated per day for health benefit is 10,000 or more.
Comfortable intensity for walking
For most people, there is little difference in the amount of energy used by walking a mile or running a mile – it’s just that walking takes longer. Plan to travel a set distance each day and watch how long it takes you to travel that distance. As your fitness improves, you will be able to walk a longer distance and use more energy.
Walking fast burns more kilojoules per hour than walking slowly, but that doesn’t mean you have to push yourself until you’re short of breath. Instead, pick up your pace so you can still talk. This simple rule of thumb means that you walk safely at your target heart rate, resulting in health gains.
Our bodies tend to get used to physical activity, so keep increasing your intensity as you are able to improve your fitness level. You can increase the intensity of your walks by:
- climb the hills
- walking with hand weights
- gradually increasing your walking speed including a brisk walk
- quickly increase the distance walked before returning to a moderate walking pace
- walk longer.
Warming up and cooling down after walking
The best way to warm up is to walk slowly. Begin each walk at a leisurely pace to give your muscles time to warm up, then increase your speed. Next, gently stretch your leg muscles, especially your calves and front and back thighs. Stretching should be held for about 20 seconds. If you feel pain, release the stretch. Don’t bounce or shake, or you could stretch the muscle tissue too much and cause microscopic tears, resulting in muscle stiffness and tenderness.
It is best to dress lightly when exercising. Dressing too warmly can increase sweating and raise body temperature, which can make you uncomfortable during a walk or possibly cause skin irritation. Gradual recovery will also prevent muscle stiffness and injury.
Shoes for walking
Walking is an economical and effective form of exercise. However, the wrong type of shoe or walk can cause foot or shin pain, blisters, and soft tissue injuries. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, with proper heels and arch supports. Take light, easy steps and make sure your heel touches the bottom before your toes. When possible, walk on grass rather than concrete to help absorb the impact.
Make walking a pleasure
Here are some suggestions for making regular walking an enjoyable form of physical activity:
- vary where you walk
- walk the dog
- walk with friends
- join a walking club.
Make the walk interesting
Ways to keep your daily walk interesting include:
- If you want to stay close to home and limit your walking to neighborhood streets, choose different routes so you don’t get tired of seeing the same sights.
- If you don’t feel safe walking alone, find one or more friends or family to walk with.
- Walk at different times of the day. The sites to see in the morning are necessarily different from those in the afternoon or early evening.
- Drive to different reserves, park the car and enjoy the view as you walk.
- Explore what is going on around you, notice the sky, the people, the sounds.
Walk the dog and his pet
A dog that needs regular exercise motivates you to walk every day. You might also like the company. If you don’t have a dog and aren’t planning on having one, consider taking a neighbor’s dog for a walk every now and then.
Here are some suggestions for the safety of your dog and others on foot:
- Be aware of other pedestrians and always keep your dog on a leash.
- If you plan to walk in a park, first check to see if dogs are allowed. Many national and state parks and other conservation reserves do not allow dogs.
- Other parks generally allow dogs to be walked on a leash. Many parks allow dogs off leash – check with your town hall.
- Always take equipment like plastic bags and gloves to clean up after your dog.
Walk with others and friends
Walking with other people can turn a workout into an enjoyable social occasion. Suggestions include:
- Plan a regular family walk – this is a great way to pass on healthy habits to your children or grandchildren and to spend time together, while being in good shape.
- If you are walking with children, make sure the route and duration of the walk are appropriate for their age.
- Babies and toddlers enjoy long walks in the pram. Take the opportunity to point out objects of interest to the youngest, such as vehicles, flowers and other pedestrians.
- Look for the self-guided nature walks that have been implemented in many parks. Young children like to look for the next numbered message; older children can learn about the plants and animals in the park, and perhaps take photos or record their experience in another way.
- Ask your neighbors or friends if they would like to join you on your walks. Consider starting a walking group.
Walking clubs and associations
There are often a number of walking clubs in the area, town or surrounding area near you. Some cater to specific groups (like women, dog walkers, or bush walkers), while others offer the opportunity to meet new people in your area.
Safety tips while walking
Walking is generally a safe way to exercise, but beware of unexpected dangers. Suggestions include:
- See your doctor for a medical examination before starting a new fitness program, especially if you are over 40, overweight, or have not exercised for a long time.
- Choose walks that are appropriate for your age and level of fitness. Warm up and cool off with a slow, gentle walk to make your workout easier.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear to avoid blisters and shin splints.
- Wear sunglasses, sunscreen, long sleeves, and a hat to avoid sunburn.
- Take waterproof clothing to avoid getting wet if it rains.
- Carry a cane or umbrella to repel rampant and hostile dogs.
- Before walking in the bush, check the weather forecast and take appropriate safety precautions (for example, wear appropriate clothing).
- Watch out for hazards in alpine or coastal areas, such as cliff edges or big waves.
- Drink plenty of fluids before and after your walk. If you are going for a long walk, take water with you.