The health benefits of walking

a picture of Karen O' Hara
Senior Physiotherapist at Bupa
02 February 2021
Next review due February 2024
Are you one of the many people who have taken up walking as a way of keeping active? Not only is walking good for your physical and mental health, it’s free, easy and convenient too. It can also be a great way to explore your local area and is better for the environment than driving or taking public transport. Here I’ll explain the health benefits of walking and share my top tips for getting started.
An older couple walking their dog in the woods

What are the benefits of walking?

As with most forms of physical activity, walking can have a whole host of benefits for both your physical and mental health.

Mental health benefits

Exercise releases feel-good hormones, and studies have shown it can:

  • improve your mood
  • reduce stress 
  • manage anxiety
  • help you sleep better
  • increase your energy
  • help you to cope with difficult times
  • improve your confidence and self-esteem
  • reduce the risk of depression

Physical health benefits

As well as helping to look after your mental health, walking also helps to look after your physical health, by helping you to:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • keep your muscles and bones healthy
  • increase your cardiovascular fitness

It can also reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions, including:

How much walking should I do?

The UK Department of Health recommends that adults get active every day. You should aim to do at least two and a half hours (150 minutes) of moderate intensity activity a week. You can break this down into sessions of 10 minutes or more and spread this out across the week. Moderate intensity means:

  • your breathing is faster
  • your heart rate is faster
  • you feel warmer

Walking can count towards moderate-intensity exercise - so long as it’s brisk.

How to get started with walking for exercise

The good news is you don’t have to climb mountains to feel the benefits of walking - any amount of physical activity is better than none. So, if you’re new to walking, start slowly and gradually increase how much you’re doing each week. Think about your daily routine and where you can include some walking. You could try:

  • taking a walk before work – especially if you’re working from home and no longer commuting
  • walking to work, the station or bus stop if you need to travel to your place of work
  • using your lunch break to go for a stroll
  • going to the shops on foot rather than taking the car when picking up essential items
  • walking with someone from your household or bubble so you have someone to make sure you go for a walk
  • listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks while you walk
  • setting yourself a daily step goal and tracking your steps using a fitness tracker, app or pedometer
  • using a walking app to help you discover new routes in your local area

What should I wear for walking?

You don’t need to buy any expensive gear to start walking, but the right clothing can help to make your walk more enjoyable.

  • Wear a good pair of shoes or trainers. Any pair will do, as long as they’re comfortable, provide adequate support and don’t rub or give you blisters.
  • If you’re planning on walking through muddy fields or mountains, you may want to invest in a good-quality pair of walking boots.
  • Socks are also important as they will prevent blisters, the best socks don’t bunch up in your shoes and should take sweat away from your feet.
  • Get some good windproof and waterproof layers to help you keep warm and dry.
  • If it’s a sunny day, take some water, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses to stay safe in the sun.
  • If you’re walking in the early hours of the morning or evening when it’s dark, wear reflective clothing so you can be clearly seen.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

a picture of Karen O' Hara
Karen O’Hara
Senior Physiotherapist at Bupa

    • Physical activity and your mental health. Mind., published March 2019
    • UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines. Department of Health and Social care., published September 2019
    • Physical activity: walking and cycling. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)., published November 2012
    • Top 10 benefits of walking. Cancer Research UK., accessed 18 January 2020
    • Sun protection for outdoor sports. American College of Sports Medicine., accessed 18 January 2021
    • Physical activity. World Health Organisation., accessed 18 January 2021
    • Get active outdoors: Walking. Sport England., accessed 18 January 2021
    • 6 tips to help you keep a walking regimen on track. Harvard Health Publishing., last updated January 2017

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