In the UK, May is National Walking Month.  Walking is form of low impact exercise which is free and doesn’t require any special equipment or training.  You can get out and walk without worrying about the risks associated with some more vigorous forms of exercise.  It’s also a great form of physical activity for people who are overweight, elderly or who haven’t exercised in a long time.

image showing two walkers

Walking – the best exercise

Walking is a simple way to improve or maintain your overall health.  Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness, cut risk of heart disease and stroke, strengthen bones, lower excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It helps to improve management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness, and diabetes.  On average, every minute of walking can extend your life by 1.5 to 2 minutes.

According to the study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California1, a brisk walk can decrease the risk of heart disease more effectively than running:

-Running reduced the risk of high blood pressure 4.2 percent and walking reduced the risk 7.2 percent.

-Running reduced the risk for high cholesterol 4.3 percent and walking lowered the risk 7 percent.

-Running lowered the risk for diabetes 12.1 percent and walking reduced the risk 12.3 percent.

-Running decreased the risk of heart disease 4.5 percent and walking reduced the risk 9.3 percent.

A brisk walk burns more calories per hour than slow walk, but this doesn’t mean you have to push yourself until you’re breathless.  Instead, walk with the speed that you can still talk.  Start off each walk at a slow pace to give your muscles time to warm up, and then pick up the speed. Walking an extra 20 minutes each day will burn off 7 pounds of body fat per year. Longer, moderately-paced daily walks are best for losing weight and shorter, faster walks are best for conditioning your heart and lungs.

You can try to build walking into your daily routine by taking the stairs instead of the lift or walk to the local shops.  Get off public transport one stop earlier and walk to work or home.  Joining a local walking group is a great way to meet new people, so check local papers or visit http://www.pathsforall.org.uk/ to find groups near you.

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1 P.Williams and P.Thompson. 2013. Walking Versus Running for Hypertension, Cholesterol, and Diabetes Mellitus Risk Reduction in “Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology”, Greenville Avenue, Dallas.