A recent survey found that one in five adults in the UK hadn’t walked continuously for more than 20 minutes in the past year. Pretty shocking when you consider walking is not only one of the easiest ways to get active, it’s by far the cheapest.
Forget pricy gym memberships and form-fitting Lycra – all you need are comfortable shoes. You don’t need to be scaling mountains or going on all-day hikes to see the benefits either.
If you need any more of an incentive to start walking more, sign up for Walk All Over Cancer this March. This fundraising event for Cancer Research UK asks people to commit to hitting an average of 10,000 steps a day for the whole month of March. The best way to do it is to hit the target each day, but don’t worry if you miss a day here and there – you can make it up with a long hike at the weekend.
Taking part in Walk All Over Cancer is a great way to raise money for a worthy cause, but it’s not an entirely selfless act – by walking regularly you’ll benefit in at least the following nine ways.
1. Walking can help you maintain a healthy weight. In fact, it might be better than the gym. Research from the London School of Economics found those who walked briskly for more than 30 minutes five days a week had smaller waists and a lower BMI than those doing other activities.
2. It can have benefits for your wallet. Leaving the car at home or bypassing the bus and walking to work instead saves cash. And you’ll probably arrive in a much better mood than you would after your usual commute too.
3. Walking is a cardiovascular exercise which can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
4. Walking can improve your posture. “Posture is a really big issue – everybody tends to have their shoulders hunched forward and their head drooping,” says Joanna Hall, founder of WalkActive. “If you do that your back becomes very stiff. When you walk properly, with good posture, you’re able to have a much more open line across your chest, which is better for your breathing and your back.”
5. You’ll live longer. Research from the European Society of Cardiology found that the heart-boosting benefits of daily brisk walks can add up to seven years to your life.
6. It’s a social activity. “Walking provides a great chance to catch up and talk to somebody,” says Hall. “It’s easier to have really meaningful conversations when you’re in nature, rather than in an urban area.”
7. It helps build muscle strength. Walking uses more than 200 muscles and is particularly good for strengthening your thighs, calves and glutes. Plus, it’s low-impact so it’s good if you have any niggles or problems with your joints.
8. It boosts your mood, especially if you walk somewhere green. A report from mental health charity Mind found that walking in parks or the countryside reduced feelings of depression in 71% of participants and boosted self-esteem in 90% of them.
9. It’s a great way of getting to know your local area and discovering shops, green spaces and hidden streets you may not even have known were there. Maybe the odd pub, too.
“You’ve got all the National Trust and English Heritage [also Historic Scotland and Cadw in Wales] sites,” says Hall, “but there’s also the Thames Pathway, the coastal paths… and there are a lot of urban areas now where the cities are focusing on improving the quality of the walking areas.”
How To Walk Faster
An old saw says get off public transport a stop or so before your destination then walk the rest. All well and good, unless it takes you ages and makes you late. But there’s a technique that can help so you can hold your head high – literally – as you speed past gridlocked traffic.
“Often when people increase their speed it becomes a powerwalk, which has a lot of tension in it,” says Hall. “This can create back pain and stiffness around the shoulders. Walking should look effortless and really smooth, but internally it should feel like you’re working quite hard.”
Hall has three tips to sharpen up your walking technique. “We call these your accelerators. One is to push more through your toes. The second is to lift your head, which means that your stride length will increases because you have greater hip extension.
“The third thing is to have greater back arm swing. The more your arm goes back, the more your body will be propelled forward. These three accelerators will help you increase your walking speed without it looking stiff.”
How To Walk More
Once you’ve nailed your walking technique, it’s time to put your skills into practice by doing more walking. Hall suggest getting a fitness tracker to help motivate you and also adding walking to your most common activities.
“I encourage people to find something they do every day and give themselves a target to walk for ten minutes before they do that task. Whether that’s getting a coffee, or reading emails, or speaking to a friend or family member. Find yourself a task you do every day and piggyback ten minutes of walking onto it. If you do that with three tasks every day it’s a really good way to get walking into your day.”