A significant proportion of UK adults are inactive, with circa 30% suggesting that they do less than 10 minutes of walking on an average week. In a study almost a decade ago, a third of adults said that walking for more than 10 minutes was their only form of exercise in a typical month and worryingly, walking – including walking for everyday transport – has further declined over that period.
In fact, distance travelled by walking has declined by up to 30% between 1975 and 2014. As a result of this decline in activity, many of the population are experiencing poor health, chronic disease and lower quality of life as a result.
The good news is that even a short brisk walk can have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing.
Evidence across the academic literature has demonstrated that even 10 minutes per day of brisk walking (or moderate intensity physical activity) can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes, help achieve a healthy weight, improve mood and quality of life, reduce stress and make everyday activities easier to undertake.
Walking is easy, requires no specific kit or equipment and is therefore perhaps more accessible and acceptable than other forms of physical activity. According to the Chief Medical Officer, the easiest and most acceptable forms of physical activity are those that can be incorporated into everyday life and so walking represents a great opportunity for people to be physically active. The importance message here though is that the intensity of the walking needs to be brisk, as that is where the greatest health benefits lie.
For those people who are already experiencing poor health from long-term chronic disease, walking has the potential to achieve even greater health benefits. This is because moderate intensity physical activity has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and will therefore likely help in the management of their condition as well as helping to prevent the risk of further related conditions developing. This includes mental health as well as physical health conditions.
People with a disability, who we know are half as likely to participate in sport than non-disabled people, and are at a greater risk of chronic health conditions can benefit equally from walking. For immobile disabled people, this message might not apply but data suggest around a third of disabled people are immobile and therefore the majority of disabled people could potentially increase their walking participation.
Taken collectively, there is much to gain from getting the population to walk briskly!
Rob Copeland is professor of Physical Activity and Health at The Centre for Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University.