Walking is one of the most underrated forms of physical activity, yet it has many health benefits for both mind and body, requires no equipment other than a sturdy pair of shoes, and it’s free!
Walking briskly can help you build stamina, burn excess calories and make your heart healthier.
You do not have to walk for hours. A brisk 10-minute daily walk has lots of health benefits and counts towards your recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise.
Before you start
Any shoes or trainers that are comfortable, provide adequate support and do not cause blisters will do.
What if I’m not very active?
If you’re not very active but are able to walk, increase your walking distance gradually.
When you take on any new activity, especially if you haven’t been active for a while, you’ll not only be making your muscles work harder, you’ll putting extra stress on your heart and lungs, making them work harder too. With this in mind, it’s better to start slowly and gradually work your way up to moderate exercise. This may be a case of starting on a simple flat route, then gradually increasing the distance, picking up the pace, add in some hills on your walk, or simply increasing the time you’re out.
Keep an eye on your breathing. If you’re struggling to walk and talk, you’re probably working too hard! With brisk walking, you’ll be breathing heavier, but you should still be able to speak full sentences.
How do I know if I’m walking fast enough?
A brisk walk is about 3 miles an hour, which is faster than a stroll. You can tell you’re walking briskly if you can still talk but cannot sing the words to a song.
What physical benefits might I see from regular walking?
Walking, especially brisk walking (walking at a pace that gets your heart beating faster, but you can still hold a conversation) is a great health all-rounder. It burns calories, which can help with weight loss, and it works your heart and makes it stronger over time. Having a stronger heart can help lower the risk of heart disease, as well as other conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
Brisk walking also helps build strength in many muscles, including your legs and bottom. You might even find your core muscles become stronger, which is great for posture and preventing back pain.
As a guide, the NHS suggests that we do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week (brisk walking, for example). This could look like 30 minutes, 5 days a week, or you can even break it up into shorter bursts of 10 minutes.
What are the mental health benefits of regular walking?
There’s good evidence that walking can improve symptoms of depression and low mood. In fact, researchers have found that walking more than two times a week, for over 30 mins each time over ten weeks has real benefits for mental health.
Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services at AXA Health, says that physical activity can help develop resilience, improve low moods and boost self-esteem. Walking is a great way to start.
Does it matter where I walk? Is walking uphill better for my muscles?
Different terrains will train different muscles. Uneven terrain, such as sand and rocky ground, will work your ankle muscles, while walking up hills will work your calf muscles more, and generally will be more challenging from a cardiovascular aspect.
If I miss a day walking, can I make up for it by doing an hour the next day, as long as I meet the 150 mins a week quota?
Yes, don’t worry! The name of the game is really to get those 150 recommend mins a week into manageable chunks, so if you’re not able to do much on one day, you can try to do extra the next day (as long as it’s not too challenging), or incorporate a few extra minutes here and there throughout your week. If you make walking more of a habit, building it into your daily routine, it should be easier to achieve.
The muscles in my feet feel a bit uncomfortable when I’ve been out walking but I wear trainers when I do it. Have you got any tips?
You might be wearing trainers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the correct footwear. The footwear you use can have an impact in different ways. If there isn’t enough padding in your shoes this can mean pressure being placed directly on places like your heel or the balls of your feet. Likewise, if there’s poor support in your shoes (such as if your trainers are worn out) you may put extra load on some of the muscles and soft tissue structures in the foot, causing some minor strains. Check your footwear is providing support under the arches.
Ironically, brand new shoes can also cause pain, because your feet may not have had time to adapt to them before hitting the 30 mins brisk walking. To help avoid this, it’s best to wear the shoes in before hitting serious miles in them.
A good way to deal with some post walk pains in your feet is to make sure you stretch! It’s not just the sole of the foot that needs a stretch though, make sure the calf muscles are stretched too, as they can also play a role in causing stiffness and pain in the feet. Another good way to work out some of the tightness and aches in your foot is to roll a golf ball or tennis ball under your feet.
Make it a habit
The easiest way to walk more is to make walking a habit.
Think of ways to include walking in your daily routine.
doing a regular walk with a friend
going for a stroll with family or friends after dinner
Listen to music
Walking while listening to music or a podcast can take your mind off the effort.
It can also get you into a rhythm and help you walk faster.
You’ll be surprised at how fast the time goes when you’re walking to your favourite tunes.
Mix it up
Add variety to your walks. You do not have to travel to the countryside to find a rewarding walk.
Towns and cities offer interesting walks, including parks, heritage trails, canal towpaths, riverside paths, commons, woodlands, heaths and nature reserves.
Join a walking group
Walking in a group is a great way to start walking, make new friends and stay motivated.
Ramblers organises group walks for health, leisure and as a means of getting around for people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of fitness. Its website has details of many locally organised walks in towns and cities, as well as the countryside. Find out more on our links page.