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Walking and health

It might sound too good to be true, but walking is a simple, free way to get active, lose weight and become healthier. You can easily build walks into a busy lifestyle as you can do it pretty much anywhere, at any time.

Here we describe the rewards of walking and suggest some tips on how to get started and stay motivated.

father and child walking


  • Benefits of walking Benefits of walking

    Here are just a few of the benefits of walking.

    As well as being a great way to get around, walking is:

    • good for your health – it has numerous benefits including reducing your risk of diabetes
    • convenient – you can just get up and go when it suits you
    • free – it won’t cost you a penny as you don’t pay for fuel, parking or transport fares
    • predictable – you’re in control so you don’t have the stress of late buses and traffic jams
    • sociable – you can do it with a friend or colleague and chat as you go
    • a great way to discover new areas  – it’s amazing what you find just from taking a different route
    • one way to improve your environment – walking instead of driving means less pollution and hence better air quality
  • Improve your fitness and burn calories Improve your fitness and burn calories

    Walking is an accessible and easy way for us all to get more active. Brisk walking that raises your heart rate and makes you warm and slightly breathless is a great form of aerobic exercise. This helps you to get fitter so you will find it easier to be more active and get tired less quickly. You may feel more tired in the first week or two after you start. But if you keep it up, you’ll probably find you soon have more energy than when you were inactive. 

    And there’s more good news. Walking burns calories. If you walk briskly at about 6.4km per hour (4 miles per hour) for half an hour, you’ll use up around 150 calories. That equals the number you’d burn playing doubles tennis for the same length of time. And it’s more than half the number of calories in the average chocolate bar!

    Although the exact number you burn depends on your body weight, age and fitness, there’s no denying that walking more is a good thing.

  • Reduce the risk of health conditions Reduce the risk of health conditions

    Walking also has a whole range of other health benefits. For example, it can reduce your risk of:

    In fact some research suggests that brisk walking is just as effective as running for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

    Since you can fit walking into everyday life, it’s an easy way to meet the recommended activity targets. To reach these you should aim to exercise at a moderate intensity for two and a half hours (150 minutes) a week. You can break this down into sessions of 10 minutes or more. Moderate intensity means:

    • your breathing is faster
    • your heart rate is faster
    • you feel warmer
  • Improve your mental health Improve your mental health

    As with other types of exercise, walking is good for both your physical health and your mental health. It can:

    • improve your mood
    • treat depression – it’s as effective as medicines for mild depression
    • reduce stress and anxiety
    • build self-esteem

    Exercise causes the release of particular hormones (chemicals produced naturally by your body) called endorphins. These create a ‘natural high’ bringing about changes in your body that make you feel better and happier.

    Bupa UK’s Clinical Director for mental health, Pablo Vandenabeele says: “We know that physical exercise, such as going for a walk, can be good for your mental health in many ways. To name a few, it helps you to sleep better, fends off anxiety, boosts self-esteem and generally reduces levels of stress.”
  • Improve joint and back pain Improve joint and back pain

    For your joints to work at their best, you need to keep them moving. Regular walking gives your joints a good workout, increases your muscle strength and can help to keep your bones strong. Walking is an excellent choice of exercise if you already have joint problems because it doesn’t put much impact on them.

    • An active lifestyle that includes walking may help protect against osteoporosis (weak bones).
    • Walking can help to reduce pain caused by osteoarthritis. Research shows that exercise, such as walking, also improves how well you can move your knee and hip joints if you have osteoarthritis in them.
    • Walking may help to prevent back pain and alleviate it if it’s already a problem for you.
  • Worried about your fitness?

    Get a picture of your current health and potential future health risks with a Bupa health assessment. Find out more today.

  • Keep motivated Getting started and staying motivated

    If you haven’t been active for a while, walking is one of the easiest ways to get started. Begin slowly and gradually increase how much walking you do. You might find it helps to set yourself a goal. The figure of 10,000 steps a day is one that you might have heard about so you could aim to build up to that. There are lots of apps that can count your steps, or you could use a pedometer.

    Try to build walking into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit – that way it will be easier to keep it up. And there are lots of ways to stay motivated once you’ve started. Here are just a few of our ideas.

    • Walk to the shops instead of driving. Or walk to the station when heading to work, or do the school run on foot.
    • Go for a walk in your lunch break with a colleague.
    • Walk up escalators and use stairs instead of the lift.
    • Explore your local green spaces with your family on foot – it will give you a chance to enjoy some quality time together.
    • Instead of going to a café to catch up with a friend, get a takeaway drink and go for a walk instead.
    • Listen to music while you walk – the time will fly and you might up your pace in time to the music.
    • Join a walking group. See our Further information section for details of how to find a scheme in your area.
  • Get the right gear Get the right gear

    Walking isn’t going to be much fun if you’re in pain from blisters or challenged by the British weather. But remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

    • Buy a good pair of shoes or trainers. Any pair will do, as long as they are comfortable, provide adequate support and don’t rub. If you’re walking to the office, carry your work shoes in your bag or leave them there overnight.
    • Get some good waterproofs – admittedly they might not be the height of fashion but you’ll enjoy your walk much more if you keep dry.
    • If you’re walking to make the most of a sunny day, take some water, sunscreen and a sun hat to stay safe in the sun.
    • Maybe you’re setting your sights on mountains rather than city streets. If so, you might want to get some advice on walking boots and other specialist gear from an outdoor activities shop.
  • Walking apps Walking apps

    There are lots of apps available to track your steps, as well as your daily calorie count and what you’re burning off while you walk. You can also set goals and share your progress with friends. There are plenty to choose from and most are free.

    If you live in a city, there are apps that have interactive walk planners so you can map the best walking route. They will also track your journey time, calories burned, step count and how much carbon you’ve saved.

    You could also download our Ground Miles app which will help you walk your way to health and wellbeing.

  • Six-week walking plan for beginners Six-week walking plan for beginners

    We’ve put together a six-week walking programme to help you get started with exercise if you’re a beginner. It’s designed for you to use with our Bupa Ground Miles app so you can see how you’re getting on. You don’t have to use the app but you might find it helps you to stay motivated and on course.

    Our walking programme will help you to build up gradually, starting from just 10 minutes. You can probably achieve that quite easily, perhaps by getting off the bus a stop earlier or walking around the block at lunchtime.

    In walking terms, moderate intensity is a brisk pace of no less than 3mph (5kph). Put simply, at this pace, in 10 minutes you’ll cover about 0.5 mile (0.8km).

    Your week-by-week walking plan

    Click an image to enlarge it.

    An image showing week one of the walking programmeWeek 1: get a walking buddy

    An image showing week four of the walking programmeWeek 4: check your shoes

    An image showing week two of the walking programmeWeek 2: gauge your pace

    An image showing week five of the walking programmeWeek 5: sip as you go

    An image showing week three of the walking programmeWeek 3: warm up, cool down

    An image showing week six of the walking programmeWeek 6: watch out for injury

  • Full walking programme Full walking programme

    Your handy at-a-glance guide of the full six-week programme. Click the image to enlarge it.

    An image showing the full six week walking programme
  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information


    • Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), November 2012.
    • Start active, stay active: a report on physical activity from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers. Department of Health., published 11 July 2011
    • Physical activity and mental health. Royal College of Psychiatrists., published November 2012
    • Energy intake and expenditure. British Nutrition Foundation., published July 2009
    • Cadbury Curly Wurly. Cadbury., accessed 22 June 2015
    • Williams PT, Thompson PD. Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2013; 33(5):1085–91. doi:10.1161/ATVBAHA.112.300878
    • Exercise. Stress Management Society., accessed 22 June 2015
    • Fransen M, Mcconnell S, Harmer AR, et al. Exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 1. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004376.pub3
    • Fransen M, Mcconnell S, Hernandez-Molina G, et al. Exercise for osteoarthritis of the hip. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 4. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007912.pub2
    • Low back pain. Early management of persistent non-specific low back pain. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), May 2009.
    • Hendrick P, Te Wake AM, Tikkisetty AS, et al. The effectiveness of walking as an intervention for low back pain: a systematic review. Eur Spine J 2010; 19(10):1613–20. doi:10.1007/s00586-010-1412-z 
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    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, September 2015.

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