Could you find time for a brisk 30 min walk daily? The benefits can be truly inspirational, says Linda Routledge
In general terms we all know that walking can be a great form of exercise, and the majority of us may well concede that we don’t walk nearly enough. Whilst sitting here writing this article I am feeling somewhat guilty that I haven’t managed a brisk walk today (must get out for lunch!).
The majority of us walk simply to get from A to B. Walking has become the casualty of our modern lifestyle, being replaced by cars in the fast paced world. Unfortunately as we walk less, so the rate of chronic diseases increases dramatically. In this modern era of energy saving devices it takes a little bit more effort and organisation to find the time for a brisk walk, however if we do the benefits can be truly spectacular.
Stress and depression in the workplace are increasing at an alarming rate, accounting for 35% of all work related ill health cases, and the use of antidepressants has risen dramatically in recent years. You know that feeling when you have had a tough day at work and it takes a glass of wine or a little chocolate to wind down. Walking is a much healthier alternative with the same benefits. Research has shown that regular brisk walks can have a dramatic effect on our mood, actually modifying our nervous system such that we experience less stress, depression and even anger. What’s more, when walking outside there is much more exposure to natural sunlight (severely lacking in our modern office-based life) that can counter the effect of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Walking with another person or a social group can also help to promote the feeling of being connected with others, boosting mood.
CREATIVITY & PROBLEM SOLVING
Some days you just cannot get your brain in gear, problems seem insurmountable and solutions much harder to find. On these days what we really need is a brisk walk. Research has shown that people come up with more creative ideas while walking than sitting. And even better, the effects carry on for a while, meaning you think more creatively when you return to your desk as well. Getting away from your desk and boosting blood flow to the brain with a moderately active walk can be really beneficial but do not do too much, as high intensity walking can be detrimental to the thinking process.
Many of us want to lose weight but can’t find the time or enthusiasm to pound the streets alone or get to the gym. Although many of us wouldn’t immediately consider walking as a weight loss exercise, it does in fact improve the body’s response to insulin, which can help to reduce body fat. Also, did you know that walking burns the same calories as running; it just takes longer to cover the same distance? So a brisk 30 minute walk every day (about 2 miles) burns exactly the same calories as running 10km twice a week. And walking tones the areas of the body that we often want to focus on, like legs, bums and tums. Walking is also one of the most cost effective low-impact exercises to increase metabolism and start weight loss.
SLEEP & ENERGY
How often do you find your day is spent yearning for your bed, only to toss and turn all night, waking up feeling groggy and drained? Modern life can be so fast paced and draining that turning off at night just becomes a battle. Unfortunately this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as we are so groggy during the day that we cannot function effectively and worries follow us to bed. You might be surprised to learn that a regular brisk walk can boost daytime energy levels which in turn can help you sleep deeper and longer at night. However be cautious about timing your walk, brisk exercise can boost energy levels so much that it becomes difficult to fall asleep. Better to schedule the walk for earlier in the day (lunchtime is ideal) to boost afternoon energy levels and help with falling asleep later.
So much of our day is now spent sitting down that there is very little stimulus for our bodies to build strong healthy bones, increasing our risk of developing osteoporosis (decreased bone density). Our bones are not fixed structures but in fact undergo constant remodelling to suit our needs. Our sedentary lifestyle is resulting in a chronic reduction in bone density amongst the general population, the overall result being more fractures. Walking, however, can reduce the risk of hip fracture by 30%. Walking adds more load to the bones, stimulating the production of more bone cells. But studies have gone even further and found that if you increase your pace (have a brisk walk rather than stroll), change direction regularly during your walk, or include a steep hill you can give even more protection against osteoporosis and fractures.
As one of the biggest modern-day killers, there is a huge amount of research supporting the prevention of chronic heart disease. Studies have now proven time and time again that simply walking every day can dramatically reduce your risk of developing chronic heart disease. A daily brisk walk results in a reduction in blood pressure, reduces cholesterol levels and can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke. In fact, a study investigating high risk adults found that an extra 2,000 steps a day beyond their normal was associated with an 8% reduced risk of having a cardiovascular event.
CANCER & DIABETES
You may be surprised to read that walking can alleviate chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes but the effects are now well documented. A brisk walk can help manage and even prevent Type II Diabetes. The body’s response to insulin is improved, and even a small reduction in weight can delay or prevent onset of this disease. Walking may also reduce your chances of developing some cancers including breast, prostate and bowel cancer. These types of cancers are the most influenced by a lack a physical activity, and even a small amount of activity improves natural antioxidants and lymphatic filtering, both of which eradicate pre-cancerous cells before they can take hold.
Exercise in general is critically important for our digestion. Whilst we breathe, our diaphragm presses down on the digestive tract, massaging it and helping the digestive process. Unfortunately when we sit for long periods of time, our intestines are actually squashed and the diaphragm cannot descend fully so cannot help digestion. Not only does walking help healthy digestion, it can have impressive results for those with bowel conditions. Studies have shown that regular exercising including walking saw a dramatic improvement in abdominal pain and other symptoms for those with IBS.
Currently around 1 in 14 of us will develop dementia over 65 and that number decreases to 1 in 6 over the age of 80. Worldwide one new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds, making cognitive decline the most pressing issue of the 21st century. Crucially there is now a wealth of evidence to show that walking regularly can improve the health of our grey matter and even bring back some grey matter that has been lost!
We all want to look and feel younger but walking can actually achieve this. A study presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress provided evidence that regular aerobic exercise triggers an anti-aging process that helps to repair old DNA, suggesting that it may delay the aging process.
Walking is one of the simplest and easiest ways to get active, and is eminently suitable for so many people for so many reasons. Take your first step today!
Linda Routledge is a Registered Osteopath and Director at Outline Health, Farnham Tel: 01252 850814 www.outlinehealth.com
VantagePoint has lots of walks for you to try – download them now at www.vantagepointmag.co.uk/category/walks/