How to get fit with walking

Walking is a simple choice if you’re trying to get healthier. It’s free, easy to do, and an accessible way to increase your daily activity.

Walking as a form of exercise might not be an obvious choice if you’re thinking about a new fitness regime, but it’s actually one of the simplest ways to reap health benefits. A study from data analyst Mintel found 26% of Brits said they weren’t motivated enough to exercise1.

Public Health England recommends we exercise for at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week because of its proven benefits2. That can seem like a lot to fit in and may feel overwhelming, especially if you currently live a more sedentary lifestyle.

Does walking count as exercise?

couple walking

The good news is that walking, and more specifically just 10 minutes of brisk walking, counts towards that government exercise target3.

To test if your walk is brisk, you should be able to speak but not sing. Many studies have shown there are a vast range of health improvements to be had from regular exercise. Research published in The Lancet concluded that 15 minutes of moderate exercise a day could add up to three years to your lifespan4.

Making walking a regular part of your lifestyle has been shown to improve overall health and functionality, regardless of age.

An American study of 1,000 women aged 65 and over with limited functionality began 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 health5.

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
  • Going and speaking to a colleague at their desk rather than emailing them
  • 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

walking up stairs

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. As you get used to the exertion you can build up to walking briskly the whole time.
  • Gradually increase your distance. A 2008 analysis of walking studies found those who walked the hardest for longest reaped the best health benefits . Try increasing your distance a little each week6.
  • Walk up hills and inclines. Even a slight incline adds intensity and resistance to your walk, and 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. You could also try*:

  • Hikideas – a website that allows you to search for walking routes based on difficulty, location and distance.
  • Runkeeper – 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.
  • Activity tracker – keep track of your step goals, which can be a good way to stay motivated.
  • Join a local walking group – such Walking for Health, who have specific groups for people managing health conditions, or Ramblers who organise free walks across the country.

Next steps

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.

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Sources:

1 http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/leisure/one-in-five-brits-say-they-dont-feel-fit-enough-to-exercise-with-other-people
2 https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults.aspx
3 https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/active10/home#kPRjR3eFH83Yur3O.97
4 http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)60749-6/abstract
5 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2005.53103.x/full
6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18048441

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