Want a happy heart, legs, mood and waistline in a few easy steps? Get walking!
As babies we refused to give up until we had mastered it. As children we did it from sun up to sun down, generally outdoors at high speed with our friends. If our parents let us do it to the shop by ourselves, well then we felt really grown up! Then we did grow up and something changed. We stopped doing it. We’re ‘too busy’, we ‘don’t have time’, ‘it’s too hot/too cold’, we ‘haven’t the energy’, or ‘it’s too much hassle to bring out the pushchairs and the dog leads, let’s just do it another day.’
We stopped walking. The simplest form of exercise that virtually anyone can do by performing simple, automatic, repetitive movements we learned in our first year. Now with cars, long and demanding work schedules, constantly being ‘on line and available’, 24 hour TV and so many things on our ‘to do’ lists, we have forgotten the simple pleasure of going for a walk. And for those of us who don’t gym, or play other sports, our health is suffering.
Walking, at a good brisk pace that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat a little, is good for you on so many levels.
- It strengthens your heart Fancy a lowered risk of stroke or heart disease?
Try jumping into some trainers and heading out for a 30 minute walk three or four times a week. You’ll lower your levels of bad cholesterol, LDL, as well as keep your blood pressure in check, helping reduce your stroke risk. And as your heart rate rises and your blood pumps harder you’ll be strengthening your heart and circulatory system.
- It’s great for weight loss and overall toning.
If you do it right, that is. Sauntering along at 2km an hour chatting to a friend won’t do the trick unfortunately. But walking at 6km an hour can burn up to 150 calories – a jam donut – so if you do that 3 times a week and adopt a healthy eating plan you’ll soon see the weight coming off. Plus walking, especially up hills, is wonderful for toning your legs – hamstrings, quads, calves – and derriere, so you’ll increase muscle mass and tone. More muscle means your metabolism will increase, so you’ll burn more calories even when you’re not out walking. If you walk with your spine straight and pull in your stomach and pelvic floor, you will work your abs so you can reduce your waistline and flatten your stomach.
- Your bones love it!
Any weight bearing exercise is good for strengthening bones. And since it’s your own weight you’ll be carrying all the way, walking is especially good because it’s also low impact, so there’s very little risk to joints. For women in their 30’s right through to and beyond menopause, weight bearing exercise is essential for preserving bone density and reducing risk of osteoporosis.
- Walking gives you energy… honestly!
By increasing circulation and oxygen supply to your whole body, walking makes you feel more awake, alert and boosts your energy levels. So often we get home at the end of the day and last thing we (think) we feel like is exercising. Mostly though, we’re ‘brain fatigued’ and stressed from the demands of work. Our bodies haven’t done much more than sit in a chair for 8 hours so they cannot possibly be tired. Overcome that ‘fatigued and drained’ feeling long enough to head out your front door for a walk and you’ll soon discover that your body has plenty of energy while your brain takes a break. The more often you walk, the more energy you will have throughout the day.
- It’s a mood booster.
Through triggering the release of endorphins (the happy feel-good chemicals in the brain) exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster, as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression. Got a problem or stressed about something at work or home? Go walking. You will be amazed at how much clearer you will think and more positive you can feel about life’s problems and challenges if you exercise regularly. If you’re a morning lark, an early morning walk is a super way to start the day. There’s something very good for the soul about walking early in the morning, when the world is still quiet and you can take in the beauty of a sunrise and a brand new day. By the same token a walk after work in the evening helps to create a watershed between work and home life, allowing you a mental breather to focus on your surroundings, your breathing, your muscles working and just take time out! Walking with your partner or a friend is also a way to exercise together and create a healthy, new activity in your lives. If you have a dog, well then you can boost two moods, keep them fit and bond better by taking them along.
- It’s (almost) free.
The beauty of walking is that it doesn’t require any monthly membership fees or highly priced equipment. All you need is a good pair of trainers, comfortable socks and clothing, a peak cap and a water bottle. Once you have those, you’re good to go! If you are walking alone, avoid walking in the dark, stick to busier, well lit routes or stay in your neighbourhood, do take your phone and let someone know your route and when you expect to be back.