With good weather and longer days, it feels great to be outside with the sun on your back, so why not make the most of this time and find out about the benefits of walking?
May is National Walking Month and the charity Living Streets is promoting activities to encourage the nation to get out and walk more. After all, walking is one of the easiest ways to stay fit and healthy. Not only that, it’s free – all you need is a pair of sturdy shoes and a waterproof!
The benefits of walking
Walking has a number of health benefits. According to the NHS, regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers. In addition, walking helps to:
- Boost your fitness – any activity that raises your heart rate will help to make you fitter
- Improve your mood – the combination of exercise and more daylight increases serotonin levels in your body, the neurotransmitter that helps you to feel happy
The benefits aren’t just health related. You can:
- Save money – if you can walk to your destination rather than take the car or bus
- Explore – discover parts of your local area that you weren’t aware of before
- Be environmentally friendly – by reducing your carbon footprint
- Gain family time – walk the kids to school or take a stroll with your significant other
Plan it in
Most people’s lives are already very full, so adding a walk to a busy schedule can be challenging. The key to success is fitting activity around your other commitments and making it fun. Get off the bus a couple of stops before your usual stop, get out of bed 20 minutes earlier and do some exercise, or plan a weekend walk with friends or family, whether it’s a hike with a picnic or a stroll around the block.
Even during the working day, there are opportunities to walk. Why not try holding a walking meeting or taking the stairs instead of the lift? If your job is desk based, it’s all too easy to stay seated for much of the day, but it’s important to take a break from your screen at regular intervals, so get up and have a walk around the office. Meet colleagues face to face instead of phoning or emailing. You’ll get a bit of exercise, and you’ll probably notice an improvement in your productivity too.
To make sure you stay motivated, it’s important to set yourself manageable targets. If you’re not used to it, you can’t expect to walk the Pennine Way straight away, so start off with something that you can comfortably achieve – perhaps 10 minutes – and then build up the time and distance from there.
To get the most benefit, you should maintain a good pace of about 4 miles an hour. That’s the sort of pace you’d walk at if you were late for an appointment, but you should still be able to maintain a conversation. Some people aim to walk 10,000 steps a day. A pedometer or activity tracker is a great way to measure this. You’ll be surprised how quickly the steps add up, whether you’re walking around your home or office, doing your supermarket shop, or going for a brisk lunchtime stroll.
Make a habit of it
On average it takes 21 days to adjust to a change in lifestyle, so if this is something you are serious about, you need to stick at it. Within this first three weeks, you will notice a real difference in the distance you walk and how you feel in yourself.
And to keep it interesting, walk with other people, take an MP3 player to listen to music or podcasts (but make sure you remain aware of people and traffic around you!), or take alternative routes to increase your distance and explore your surroundings.
Let us know how you get on
It would be fantastic to hear your success stories, so why not let us know how walking has helped you. Share your favourite walks, photos and any tips for keeping motivated on Facebook (www.facebook.com/westfieldhealth) or Twitter @WestfieldHealth #WHWalking. You could even win a prize! Keep an eye out for more information.