Among the most consistently underrated forms of exercise is simply walking from one place to another. According to a survey last year, just 71% of adults walk at least once a week. Even once you discount the proportion of people who are literally unable to walk, this isn’t terribly impressive. Given the health benefits of the practice, it’s something which should concern just about everyone.
But what exactly are those health benefits? Let’s take a look.
Walking helps to elevate the heart rate. Much like any other muscle in your body, the heart repairs itself when it’s put under strain. Just a little bit of walking can consequently lower the blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Walking provides a unique opportunity for a kind of meditation. Our minds unconsciously turn over the problems we’ve been dealing with during the day, and they might happen upon solutions you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. It’s no coincidence that some of history’s more productive artists, musicians and novelists made time to work a short walk into their daily routine!
Exposes you to Nature
Among the most often-cited advantage of walking is its ability to put you in touch with the natural world. Wandering through a meadow in the middle of summer will provide you with plenty of beautiful things to look at. The same is true of a forest during late autumn. With many of us spending more time in nature lately, a walking holiday in the UK might be a great way to progress with walking. In the UK, we are fortunate to live within close distance of a whole range of suitable routes – so you might as well take advantage of them.
If you don’t move for hours, days, or even weeks, then your muscles will atrophy. You’ll find yourself reaching for a high shelf, only to keel over, crippled by back spasms. And it’s not just sedentary people who need to worry about this: if you’re just doing a single form of exercise on a limited range of muscle groups, then walking might provide the all-around stimulation that your core needs to remain strong and supportive.
One of the most appealing features of walking is its ability to burn calories, and thus contribute to weight loss. Do it regularly, and you’ll burn energy, which your body will draw from your fat reserves (provided that you don’t eat reward yourself with a snack). But as well as burning fat directly, walking will strengthen muscle fibres, which will in turn demand more calories over time, making it easier to maintain a deficit.
Exercise of every sort confers mental health benefits, and walking is no different. If you lose weight and consequently feel better about the way you look, your mood will improve. But the so-called ‘runners high’ is felt by walkers, too – albeit to a lesser degree. This is the work of endorphins – when our heartrate goes up, they’re naturally released.