When it comes to exercise, it doesn’t get much easier – or cheaper – than walking. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can turn you into a happier, healthier person. Rebekah Kendal gives us 10 more reasons to lace up your takkies
1. Reduces the risk of heart disease
A study conducted by a group of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found that brisk walking can be as effective as running in reducing heart health risks such as elevated blood pressure and cholesterol. The study compared the cardiovascular condition of more than 33 000 runners and 15 000 walkers and found that walking reduced the risk of being diagnosed with hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia by seven percent.
2. Promotes weight loss
A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2013 comparing the effects of regular brisk walking and running on weight loss found that while runners lost more weight, those who tended to walk regularly also shed a few kilos. But it’s not all about the scale – walking also helps to tone up your muscles, which means that you’ll still end up looking better – even if you haven’t lost that much weight.
3. Reduces the risk of some cancers
Post-menopausal women who walk for at least seven hours a week have a 14% lower risk of getting breast cancer than those who walk for fewer than three hours a week, a study published in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2013 found. The study’s researchers also speculated that walking may have similar protective effects on younger women. Regular energetic walking has also been associated with a lower risk of aggressive prostate cancer in men.
4. Boosts creativity
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, researchers at Stanford University discovered that walking can improve creative thinking. They found that people were better able to finish tasks used to gauge creative thinking while they were walking. The positive effect on creativity was maintained for a short period after walking.
5. Reduces fatigue
Low- or moderate-intensity exercise (leisurely or fast-paced walking) can increase energy levels by 20% and decrease fatigue by 49% (moderate intensity) to 65% (low intensity), researchers at the University of Georgia found in 2008.
6. Reduces the risk of cateracts
According to another study, this one published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2013, you are statistically less likely to develop age-related cataracts if you regularly engage in moderate exercise such as brisk walking.
7. Lowers stress levels
Exercise reduces levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. Walking with a pet or friend can help further reduce your cortisol levels. But to get the most out of your daily walk, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University suggest you take a walk in nature. In a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the researchers found that when subjects walked in green spaces, their brain-wave readings became more meditative.
8. Slows mental decline
In an ongoing 20-year study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have discovered walking can slow the march of cognitive decline in healthy adults as well as those already diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. According to researchers who examined the brain volumes of the participants, more walking is associated with greater brain volume, particularly in those areas of the brain associated with memory and learning. Basically, healthy adults should walk a minimum of 10 km every week to maintain brain volume, the researchers suggested.
9. Makes you happy
Researchers at the University of Texas found that a mere 30 minutes of walking can elevate your mood when you are feeling down. A possible explanation for this is that walking causes your body to produce endorphins and serotonin, both of which make you feel good.
10. Strengthens your bones
In addition to being good for your muscles, walking – which is a weight-bearing exercise – can also increase your bone density. The globally famous Nurses’ Health Study, which has followed tens of thousands of women for decades, found that women who walked for at least four hours a week were 40% less likely to suffer hip fractures than those who didn’t.
• Wear comfortable clothing and shoes that provide adequate support.
• Start out slowly and gradually build up your walking programme. If necessary, start with three 10-minute sessions.
• Remember to engage your core muscles while you walk (no slouching!), and squeeze your gluteus maximus muscles.
• Warm up by starting off gently and slow down again towards the end of your walk. Once you are done, stretch out your feet, calves, quadriceps and hamstrings.
• Where possible, walk on grass instead of tarmac to reduce the impact, and look out for traffic or uneven surfaces.
• Make walking part of your daily routine: try schedule some walking meetings, take a brisk walk during your lunch break, leave your car at home for short trips and take the stairs.
• Instead of meeting friends for coffee, meet up for a walk.
• Remember to add variety to your walks: cities, beaches, parks and forests are all part of your fitness playground… Go play!
• Join a local walking group. These groups are generally pitched at different levels so you can join up whether you’re a walking newbie or a seasoned pro.
• Set yourself weekly and monthly targets … and treat yourself when you hit them! Pedometers, a GPS watch or a smartphone app such as MapMyWalk are fun ways to keep track of your progress.
• Try increase the intensity of your walks by increasing your pace, covering an even greater distance, walking with weights in your hands or strapped to your ankles, or even just choosing a hilly route.