Walking – it’s just putting one foot in front of the other and yet science proclaims it as one of the most under-rated things we can do for our health. With all the gyms and exercise options out there, it’s easy to overlook one of the cheapest, gentlest, easiest and most effective exercises – good, old-fashioned walking.
You don’t need any fancy equipment – just comfy clothes and shoes, a waterbottle if it’s hot or you are going for a long walk, and sunnies and a hat if in the sun. A lot of people choose to make walking a part of their morning routine as it has such a myriad of both mental and physical health benefits.
Many studies say it is better for us than running (particularly if you have some injuries or are carrying a bit of extra weight) and has more mental health benefits than a workout in a gym.
Let’s look at some of the seriously impressive all-round health benefits for your body as well as your mind that come from including walking in your plan for a balanced lifestyle –
A daily walk (when compared with little to no leisure time activity) can provide a multitude of physical health benefits that promote overall longevity, less sickness and disease, and better health in general.
Walking helps to:
- reduce the risk of stroke
- reduce the number of days you might spend in hospital each year
- lower your risk of death by 39%
- improve fitness
- promote cardiac health - reduces risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease
- reduce risk of diabetes
- create less stress on joints and reduces pain
- prevent weight gain or promote health loss
- reduce risk for cancer and chronic disease
- improve endurance
- promote better circulation
- enhance posture
To increase the physical intensity of walking, you can carry weights or increase the speed, distance or length of time you walk. It’s okay to start slow and easy – the important thing is starting, and then walking regularly.
MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS
While there are many physical benefits, the mental boost you can receive from adding a walk to your daily routine may be even more profound and immediate.
A study by Stanford University found that walking increased creative output by about 60 percent. The researchers called this type of creativity “divergent thinking” which they define as a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. This is quite logical when you consider that science shows that taking part in activities that allow our mind to wander promotes the free flow of ideas and puts you in the mental state where epiphanies are most likely to occur.
And it’s not only your creativity that will benefit - psychologists proclaim that a 12-minute walk may be just as successful as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety. This effect is much greater when people walk in nature as the natural world tends to have us looking for the positive, rather than negative, aspects of life.
Walking helps to:
- Improve your creativity
- Boost your mood
- Increase your self- confidence
- Reduce feelings of anxiety
- Reduce risk of depression
- Cope with stress better
- Feel generally happier
- Encourage the practice of gratitude
- Bring calm into your life
- Promote mindfulness
One of the most wonderful things about walking is that it can be done anywhere. Walking in nature such as the beach, the bush, in gardens, bikepaths or parks has added mental benefits but any walking is better than no walking.
You can walk a few blocks of the suburbs or city - and you will often find a park, river walk or similar that brings a little nature to even the most populated areas. Walking can help you discover areas and details such as flora, fauna, street art or beautiful architecture that are easily missed when driving by or whizzing past on public transport.
You can walk alone (always be mindful of personal safety), with your dog, with a friend, with family or in a group. It’s a great chance to bond as you walk – and conversation can make the exercise time fly by before you know it! Introverts may well prefer walking solo or with a quiet companion so it’s a time to recharge their energy rather than deplete it.
If you need further encouragement to walk, think about finding a walking buddy who will keep you accountable and encourage you to do your daily walk. They could be a family member, friend or neighbour – just make sure they are committed to walking too – you don’t want to be encouraging each other to skip walking!
It takes a while to get into the habit of walking but it’s worth persisting. Walking is an accessible, affordable and enjoyable pastime that helps you to:
- Look better
- Feel better
- Perform better
- Live longer
- Be healthier in mind, body and spirit
Now you know walking has so many fantastic benefits, isn’t it time YOU found time to walk?