This blog is mainly about forms of high-intensity exercise – lots of jumping around, flinging heavy weights and moving as fast as possible – but lately I’ve gotten into something a little lower in impact: walking. Whether it’s come from being cooped up inside a car, office or gym all week, or whether it’s because I’ve turned the big 3-0 and my interests are becoming tamer, at the weekend I’m really enjoying getting out into the countryside for a leg stretch.
But is walking really all that weak, or is it actually really good for you? The more I thought about the parts that make up a good walk, the more I realised how many benefits it has. Read on to find out the 7 ways walking is wonderful for wellbeing.
1. Fat burn
High-intensity exercise like CrossFit is brilliant for the cardiovascular system, but low-intensity, steady state exercise like walking can help burn fat, especially if you’re currently untrained. You can see by my Fitbit graph below of a recent walk that for the majority of the time my heartrate was in the fat burn zone. Walking is a brilliant opportunity for someone looking to lose weight to begin their journey, starting at 30 minutes a day and working up, but it’s also good if you’re super fit too – remember that long periods of sitting can increase mortality rates whether you’re fit or not, and we can’t spend all of our time doing high-intensity exercise!
2. Low-impact, but promotes bone density
We’re always told to do impact activity, as impact increases our bone density, but there are many reasons for people not being able to do high-impact stuff like running. Walking is low-impact, but we still get the bone density benefits – a study showed that 30 minutes walking a day reduced hip fractures. Having denser bones may help prevent osteoporosis, which is especially important for us ladies who are more likely to get it.
3. Improves agility and stability
I figured this out when Chris and I went for a walk up the hills in Macclesfield the other day – it was really muddy so we were slipping around a lot, and I found myself jumping from dry patch to dry patch to stop myself getting caked! (Didn’t work particularly well, as you can see below) During that time I was working my core and my stabiliser muscles hard without really realising it, which will help a lot in CrossFit with things like snatches and overhead squats, but will also help keep my balance in day-to-day life. Agility is good for balance too, plus it helps when turning at speed, so perfect if you play football, tennis or hockey.
4. Reduces risk of illness
Walking could reduce the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke, and some cancers. Now, it’s a tough one to say that it’s walking exactly that reduces this risk, as people who walk more are more likely to be fit, healthy and active. However – why take the risk? You can become fit and healthy by walking more. It’s a chicken-or-egg situation, but walking is so simple to do it’d be daft not to involve walking in your life somehow.
This one’s a weird one, as a study showed that a key indicator of stress in the body actually went up after the participants went for a woodland walk, but the subjects reported that they perceived their levels of stress to be lower. There’s an argument that this perception may matter more than biomarkers in the body as real stress is our reaction to stress, so it could be that because we’re enjoying our walk in the woods despite it causing stress on the body, that we’re perceiving it to relieve stress (Still with me? Confusing I know!). After all, don’t you feel refreshed and calm after a walk in the countryside? I know I do.
6. Improves sleep
I go to CrossFit most days but I know the sleep I get after a good walk is better than after any WOD. Walking releases feel-good serotonin, which most exercise does (I know I feel on top of the world after training) so why is walking different for sleep? The theory seems to be more the brain exercise you get with walking rather than the bodily exercise, according to the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough Uni. You might think you exercise your brain every day at work or uni, but stress levels (and our reaction to that stress) will have a negative effect along with that. When you get out of the city and go out for a walk in the countryside, though, your brain is relaxed whilst also taking in the unusual sights and sounds around you. Eventually your brain gets tired – and you get tired along with it!
7. Few distractions
Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook: three of my biggest distractions. Three things that often prevent me from doing my work, getting somewhere on time, or even having a good conversation with my boyfriend. When you’re out walking in nature you’re likely to have minimal phone signal; besides, you’ll be too busy trying to keep yourself upright as you slide in the mud to be glued to Twitter. I’ve had some brilliant conversations with my boyfriend out walking – better than we would have at home, with mobile phones in front of our faces – and even when we’ve walked in silence it’s great to be in touch with your own thoughts for once.
While I won’t be hanging up my lifting shoes in exchange for rambling poles any time soon, I will be bundling up at the weekends and going for a countryside walk. As well as walking’s many health benefits, it’s great to get out of the city and get some fresh air in the lungs!