The health benefits of walking

Bupa UK Clinical Fellow
15 March 2018

If you’re looking for a way to get active, the solution might be easier than you think. Walking is a simple, free way to exercise, 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 I’ll outline some of the benefits of walking, and also suggest some tips on how to get started and stay motivated.

Benefits of walking

Here are just a few of the benefits of walking.

As well as getting you from A to B, 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

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. Doing this regularly 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! The exact numbers will depend on your weight. But if you walk briskly at about 6.4km per hour (4 miles per hour) for half an hour, you could use up around 150 calories. It’s probably equal to playing casual badminton for the same length of time. And it’s more than half the number of calories in the average chocolate bar!

Reduce the risk of health conditions

There’s a whole range of other health benefits of walking. For example, it can reduce your risk of:

In fact some research suggests that (expending the same amount of energy) brisk walking is just as effective as running for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Improve your mental health

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

  • improve your mood
  • reduce stress
  • provide mental and emotional satisfaction

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

Make it part of your routine

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

Walking can count towards this moderate-intensity exercise requirement, as long as it’s brisk, and it’s easy to fit these sessions of 10 minutes or more into your day. Think about your daily routine and where you can include some working. You could try:

  • walking to work, or to the station or bus stop
  • using your lunch break to go for a stroll
  • going to the shops on foot rather than taking the car
  • walking up escalators and using stairs instead of the lift
  • instead of going to a café to catch up with a friend, getting a takeaway drink and go for a walk instead

Get started and stay motivated

If you haven’t been active for a while, you may find walking is an easy way to get started. But it will also be important to keep your motivation. Begin slowly and gradually increase how much walking you do. You might find it helps to set yourself goals. There are lots of apps that can count your steps, or you could use a pedometer, so your goals can be specific and measurable.

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’re 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

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. 

Even healthy people become unhealthy sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

Dr Eleanor Atkins
Bupa UK Clinical Fellow

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