Work on Your Wellness: Walking
Walking is the most accessible and common form of exercise. It is free to participate and does not require skill, training, or equipment. As anyone in the habit of walking knows, it can do mind and body a lot of good.
Wellness Benefits of Walking
Walking regularly helps one stay mentally and physically fit. The benefits of a weekly walking routine include (but are not limited to) the following:
Weight Loss — Walking is one of the best ways to lose weight naturally. Overweight people have succeeded in shedding several pounds by walking briskly for at least 30 minutes five days a week. The more you walk and the higher your speed, the more calories you burn.
Researchers at Harvard conducted a survey of more than 12,000 people to study the effect of 32 obesity genes on body weight. They found that among participants who walked at a brisk pace for about an hour the effect of those genes were diminished by half.
Lower Cholesterol and Improved Cardiovascular Health — Walking regularly can lower high blood pressure, increase good cholesterol (HDL), reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), and improve heart health.
Energy and Endurance — Walking briskly can increase energy levels because it improves the supply of oxygen throughout the body and releases hormones such as endorphins. Walking at least 30 minutes per day five days a week can help improve endurance levels and flexibility.
Improved Immunity — Walking even 20 to 30 minutes a day at least five days a week can boost immunity and provide protection during the flu season.
Emotional Well-Being — Walking can help those who suffer from chronic anxiety, stress, and depression.
Improved Mood — Walking is known to improve blood circulation. The circulatory system transports vital oxygen and nutrients to all cells in the brain and body, and removes waste products. Healthy circulation is necessary for the brain, heart, and other vital organs to function normally.
Walking benefits the central nervous system or the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which influences an individual's response to stress-inducing factors. Walking has a calming effect on the nerves, which helps to alleviate stress and improve one's mood.
Sleep — Brisk walking can help you sleep better because it relieves stress and symptoms of depression. Troubling thoughts can interfere with sleep. Walking helps to increase endorphin levels, which in turn help to lower stress and improve emotional well-being.
Researchers have found that moderate aerobic activity can increase the duration of deep sleep.
Reduced Risk of Breast Cancer — Many studies have indicated a link between physical activity and reduced risk of breast cancer. An American Cancer Society study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that study participants who walked seven hours a week had a 14 percent lower risk of developing cancer than those who walked three hours a week or less.
Joint Pain — Walking helps to lubricate the joints, and strengthen muscles and bones. Researchers have found that walking can lessen joint pain in people who have arthritis.
Cravings — Research indicates that walking may help to moderate a sweet tooth. According to an article on the Harvard Health Publishing website, researchers at the University of Exeter found that walking for 15 minutes can reduce the urge for chocolate and the amount one consumes when under stress. The next time you are tempted to exceed your normal quota of chocolate, go for a walk instead.
Make Time to Walk
While walking every day is ideal, not everyone can make time each day. Try to walk for 30 minutes a day five days a week. That would add up to 150 minutes of weekly exercise as advised by the NHS for adults in the age group 19 to 64.
Where to Walk
You can walk outdoors or indoors, depending on your preferences and convenience.
Whenever possible, walk outdoors in the morning. Fresh air is bracing and walking in nature has a calming effect. You don’t have to go far. City parks, tree lined sidewalks, and heritage trails are pleasant and accessible outdoor options.
For those who prefer walking indoors, or can’t make time for a morning or evening walk outdoors, mall walking is great way to get some exercise in a temperature-controlled environment. The flat surfaces, long corridors, restrooms, seats to rest on, and protection from the weather make malls a convenient and comfortable walking venue.
Treadmills are a popular indoor option. Other indoor alternatives are local community centers, clubs, and gyms with walking tracks.
It’s a good idea to include both indoor and outdoor walks in your weekly routine. Walking to work, during lunch break, and to any needed shopping destinations are all good ways to get your daily workout.
Walking indoors can save time if you have a tight schedule. Walking indoors offers protection from the weather and traffic, is comfortable, and convenient. Walking outdoors offers the benefits of fresh air and nature. Walking in the countryside, or on the beach, or around the neighbourhood in the morning, is both calming and invigorating.
If you walk in the dark, it is advisable to wear luminescent colors and a reflector so that drivers can see you. Avoid potentially unsafe areas. If you are walking alone, it is prudent to keep within safe precincts and not to take the same route every day.
Make it a point to walk only in well-lit places and inform a family member or friend about the route you plan on taking. Stay alert and keep an eye on your surroundings while you walk.
Joining a walkers’ group or walking with a buddy can be helpful if you are not in the habit of walking, prefer having company, or just need that nudge to get going. If you need motivation, team up with other walkers.
It is also an opportunity to make new friends. Increasing social interaction can help to ease anxiety, lift one’s mood and improve self-esteem.
Mental and Emotional Health
As discussed earlier, walking benefits both physical and mental well-being. Walking regularly at a moderate to brisk pace can relieve stress, boost one’s mood, improve sleep, aid weight loss, increase energy and stamina, and help to protect against cardiovascular ailments and some chronic conditions.
It is important to be consistent and walk at least five days a week, stick to a balanced diet, and get adequate sleep.