Have you considered walking to get fit? Our guide will help you get started, whatever your age or fitness level.
During the pandemic, walks have become a key way to catch up with loved ones and maintain general good health and wellbeing.
Most of us will incorporate walking into our daily routines, but many people underestimate how effective regular walking can be as a form of aerobic exercise.
Walking more regularly is the perfect way to ease into a more active lifestyle.
It's free to do, requires no equipment except walking shoes, and you can do it almost everywhere — from your local park to your living room.
Even a small amount of brisk walking each week could get your heart rate up, improve your fitness level and contribute to weight loss.
It doesn’t end there. Harvard Medical reports that moderate exercise programmes such as walking also protects against a number of diseases, including: “dementia, peripheral artery disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, colon cancer, and even erectile dysfunction.”
Can I get fit just by walking?
Yes. If you walk enough, you can get fit.
Walking briskly is an effective aerobic activity. It can help you build stamina, boost your cardiovascular health reduce the risk of heart disease and other health conditions.
Walking also burns calories. In order to walk enough to improve your fitness, you should make sure you are walking enough to meet the NHS exercise guidelines.
How much exercise should I be doing?
NHS guidelines on exercise recommend you should be doing either 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity each week.
You should spread out different types of exercise and activity across the week and try to do some form of physical activity every day.
Light activity is anything that gets you up and moving. This could be the simplest activities, from making a cup of tea to cleaning the kitchen. The older we get, the more important it is to keep up with light activity.
Moderate activity increases your heart rate and may raise your body temperature and create some shortness of breath. You should be able to talk but you probably won’t be able to sing.
Vigorous activity makes you breathe hard and fast. You may struggle to say more than a few words at a time.
This advice is the same for all adults. Children should be doing a lot more. You can find the full NHS guidelines here.
What are the benefits of walking?
One of the main benefits of walking to get fit is that it often doesn't feel like exercise.
You can fit a walking workout into your everyday routine.
Perhaps walk to the shop instead of driving, walk while you are on the phone to a friend, or walk up and down the stairs during a TV advert break.
Because you can walk almost anywhere, it can be much easier to fit in a quick walk than 10 minutes on the stationary bike. Especially if you can't get to a gym.
Walking more can have health benefits for people of all ages. The NHS states: “Sometimes overlooked as a form of exercise, 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.
How can walking improve my health?
Making walking a regular part of your lifestyle has been shown to improve overall health and functionality, regardless of age.
One study published by the American Geriatric Society saw 1,000 women aged 65 and over with limited functionality begin a walking regime.
A year later, at the end of the study, 28% of the women reported they regularly walked eight blocks.
The researchers concluded the participants showed "better health and functionality than non-walkers", including reduced depressive symptoms and improved cardiovascular health.
Another study concluded that just 15 minutes of moderate exercise a day could add three years to your lifespan, showing that even small changes can make a real difference.
Can you lose weight by walking?
As with any cardiovascular exercise, walking can certainly contribute to weight loss.
Brisk walking, especially over long distances, can be a very efficient calorie burner. Rather than focusing on how many steps you are making in a day, focus on getting a decent amount of brisk walking into your schedule.
Walking 10,000 steps each day is great, but studies by the government suggest that 10 minutes of brisk walking a day can be better for us.
500 brisk steps will burn more calories than 500 steps taken at a leisurely pace.
How to walk more
Figuring out where to start with a new routine can seem daunting, but the chances are you’re already walking a little every day.
The trick is to look at ways you can add in more opportunities. Some ideas include:
- Walking all or part of your commute
- Walking to the shops instead of driving or using public transport
- Taking the stairs instead of the lift
- Arranging to meet a friend for a walk at the weekend
- Incorporating walking into your day-to-day activities is a good place to start without feeling like you're over-committing.
How to improve your fitness by walking
Everyone enjoys a leisurely walk, but if you want to improve your health and fitness, the effort level of your walk needs to increase.
Vary your speed
If you’re just starting to walk regularly, try adding short bursts of brisk walking in-between your usual pace to increase the intensity. As you get used to the exertion you can build up to walking briskly the whole time. According to the government, brisk walks are key to improving general health.
To test if your walk is brisk, you should be able to speak but not sing.
Gradually increase your distance
One analysis of walking studies found those who walked the hardest for the longest reaped the best health benefits. Try increasing your distance a little each week.
Walk up hills and inclines
Even a slight incline adds intensity and resistance to your walk. It also engages larger muscles in your lower body such as your glutes, thighs and calves, which will get your heart working harder.
How to stay motivated
Once you’ve got into a habit, the next thing is to stay motivated. There are a number of websites and apps that can help you plan new routes in urban and rural areas, count your steps and track your progress.
The NHS Active 10 app helps you measure your brisk walking in 10 minute sessions, and gradually increases your target as you walk more.
Hikideas is a website that allows you to search for walking routes based on difficulty, location and distance.
Runkeeper is also for walkers; don’t be fooled by the name. This app allows you to track and time your walks and plot your routes on a map using GPS. You can link with friends to help each other stay motivated too.
A smartwatch or other activity tracker will help you keep track of your step goals, which can be a good way to stay motivated.
As with any new exercise regime, it’s important you don’t try to do too much too soon. Start small and work your way up slowly. You'll soon find you can’t wait to go out for your next walk.
If you are unsure about the right approach for your personal circumstances, why not ask for professional advice?
Your GP can offer advice on what level of walking is best for you.
Alternatively, speak to a personal trainer or a physiotherapist. Many consultations are currently available online.
At Circle Health Group, we have many specialists to help you improve your general health and wellbeing.