Walking for Wellness
If you’ve read the blog post on Exercise and Mental Health you’ll have some understanding of the power of physical activity to transform how you feel.
You do not have to be lifting weights in a gym or sweating it out at a boot camp to be physically active (although these are excellent if you like that kind of thing). Any physical activity is good for both mind and body. It’s important to find something that you enjoy and that fits in with your lifestyle so that it becomes a regular part of your schedule. Here we’ll look at the power of simply going for a walk.
Walking is free, requires no training or special equipment and can be done anywhere. To top it all it is good for physical and mental health. Here we’ll look at some of the benefits of walking and some simple tricks for increasing the amount of walking you do.
Exercise and the Immune System
Moderate intensity exercise, such as walking, improves immune function, reduces inflammation and potentially reduces the risk and severity of respiratory viral infections. On the other hand it’s known that prolonged, intense exercise suppresses the immune system. In short a brisk walk, mobility exercises and yoga are excellent ways to protect the immune system and lung health (1).
Exercise and Brain Health
Long-term regular physical activity, including walking, is associated with significantly better cognitive function and less cognitive decline in older women. Walking at an easy pace for at least an hour and a half a week is recommended (2).
Exercise and Longevity
The world’s longest lived people don’t go to the gym or run marathons. They live in environments that nudge them to move without having to think about it. They have gardens that need tending and houses that need cleaning and jobs that require them to frequently get up off their chair. The key factor is that they do these things every single day.
Walking for Longevity
Research shows that walking reduces the risk of mortality in older adults even if they do not meet the recommended 150 minutes per week (3).
The good news is that you don’t have to set aside time for a long walk every day. Small amounts can add up into a decent amount. Here are a few tips for getting a good few steps in every day:
- Park at a distance – if you do need to drive somewhere park at a distance from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
- Short walks can add up – take a few short walks over the course of the day: Take a walk around the block before breakfast, walk to the park or post office at lunchtime and go for a stroll around the neighbourhood in the evening.
- Walk to the shops – instead of doing one big weekly supermarket shop in the car do several food buying trips over the course of the week on foot or by bicycle.
- Take 5 – spend 5 minutes every hour out of your seat. Walk around the office, go up and down stairs a few times or go outside and get some fresh air.
- Take a longer walk – schedule in a longer walk when time permits; aim for 30 minutes to start with and build up. This could be done before work, at lunchtime or at weekends.
- Take the stairs instead of the lift.
- Get off the bus one stop earlier than you need to.
See also the blog post on Exercise and Recovery for a reminder of the importance of allowing time for recuperation between exercise sessions.
1. Sport. Sci. Rev. 2009 Oct;37(4):157-164. Exercise and Respiratory Tract Viral Infections. Martin SA et al.
2. September 22/29, 2004. Physical Activity, Including Walking, and Cognitive Function in Older Women. Weuve J et al.
3. Am J Prev Med. 2018 Jan;54(1):10-19. Walking in Relation to Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Older U.S. Adults. Patel AV et al.