Better Health, One Step at a Time
Have lockdowns 1-3 made you yearn to yomp in nature? With so many doors shut over the last 10 months, we’ve been forced outdoors more than ever before. Living in concrete London, I’ve been grateful for every bit green I can see, and my boys can run rampant in. I think my family must have scrambled over every square inch of our local park.
Looking back, I’ve loved it. I’ve loved the reframing of our immediate surroundings. I’ve loved the simplicity of sipping hot chocolate on a fallen tree trunk. I’ve loved the natural act of walking to get there. And my kids who used to moan about walking last March, now spring about like gazelles.
Another upside is that walking is like medicine. It improves blood pressure and blood sugar levels, can help reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer, can help you avoid osteoporosis and osteoarthritis and help you maintain body weight and lower your risk of obesity. It improves cerebral blood flow and lowers the risk of vascular disease that may help you avoid dementia later in life. All this, and it’s free.
If that’s not enough to convince you, I’ve listed 12 other advantages of putting one foot in front of the other. I mean, what else can we do right now?
1. Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease: Walking just 21 minutes a day can cut your risk of heart disease by 30 per cent.
2. Curb cravings: A 15-minute walk can curb chocolate and sugar cravings.
3. Boost creativity: Since the days of Socrates, walking has been linked to enhanced cognitive functioning and creativity. Walking can boost creativity by up to 60 per cent.
4. Support the environment: Replacing 1½ miles of driving with walking will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced by about 75 per cent. Eliminating just 10 miles of driving each week would eliminate roughly 500 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
5. Improve well-being: Walking can help elevate your mood and enhance mental well-being.
6. Lose weight: Interval walkers lost six times more weight than walkers who maintained a steady pace, according to a Danish study.
7. Live longer : Adding 150 minutes of brisk walking to your routine each week can add a little over three years to your lifespan.
8. Boost energy: Going for a walk when tired can increase oxygen flow through your body, while also increasing levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, the hormones responsible for elevating energy levels.
9. Metabolize fat: Excessive sitting can reduce levels of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme critical for fat metabolism. Walking can help sustain levels of LPL, which helps metabolism fat into energy.
10. Strengthen your heart: The heart is a muscle responsible for pumping blood to working muscles in the body. Low-to-moderate intensity walking is a safe and effective way to strengthen the heart, helping it to become more efficient at moving blood (carrying oxygen and nutrients) to the working muscles.
11. Improve oxygen flow: Walking can increase the numbers of mitochondria, the portion of the muscle cells which convert oxygen to energy. More mitochondria mean that your body becomes more efficient at converting oxygen to energy.
12. Enhance problem-solving skills: If you’re stuck on solving a problem or trying to write something important, going for a walk can be an effective way to help you clear your mind. When combined with the increased oxygen flow, you might surprise yourself by identifying the solution by the time you get back to your desk.
How Far And How Fast Should I Walk?:
30 minutes, five days a week. The goal should be to walk 10,000 steps per day – anything less than 5,000 steps each day is considered sedentary.
Listening to music while walking can help you walk faster: walk to the beat of “Shut Up and Dance” and you’ll be going about 3.5 mph. If you can keep up with “Shake It Off,” you’ll be cruising at more than 5 mph (to get a rough estimate of how fast you walk without the tunes, count the number of steps you take in a minute and divide by 30).
If you’re up for it, change up the stride length of your walk by adding lunges or large walking steps between intervals. Think 30 seconds of an easy walk and then 30 seconds of monster-size steps. This can significantly bump up the calorie burn of your regular walk.
Lastly, consider investing in a tech device: they can help motivate you and track your progress over time.
Thanks to American Council on Exercise for some of these stats.