You might not think that walking can do a lot for your health, but a stroll in the great outdoors is full of benefits – don’t believe us? Take it from the experts…
Fittest of the fit
“Not only does walking give you a cardiovascular workout,” says physiotherapist Aisling O’Malley, (hcahealthcare.co.uk). “But it also helps you strengthen the muscles in your lower body and maintain healthy bone density.” Walking can cut arthritic pain by half, increase your energy levels and even reduce fatigue. “All of these changes are not seen in people who run marathons or people who lift weights in the gym,” says Dr James Brown, a lecturer from the School of Health and Life Sciences at Aston University. “They are seen in people who walk.”
“Walking is one of the most effective ways to clear your head, improve your mood and your quality of sleep,” says David Weiner, a training specialist at fitness app Freeletics (freeletics.com). “It can also reduce stress, anxiety and fatigue. Any physical activity has an impact on mental wellbeing, but one of the benefits of walking is that you breathe in the fresh air. Taking a stroll outside releases endorphins and hormones that put you in a good mood, such as oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) which can make you happier, improve your concentration skills, and provide you with more energy.” Spending time in nature also stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (the part of our body that tells us to relax after a hard day), which is why people will often find it easier to get a good night’s sleep after they’ve been on a walk.
Walk the walk
“There is no one-for-all optimum walking pace,” says Aisling. “The best pace will depend on your current health and fitness level. If you’re trying to hit your moderate-intensity aerobic target, I would expect moderate walking to mean that you can still hold a conversation while doing so, but have an increased rate and depth of breathing. If you’re going for a brisk walk to meet the vigorous-intensity target, then you’re looking at the speed a person walks when they’re late for an important meeting. So not a stroll, but more of a purposeful stride.”