As Cam wrote in Five Small Changes that Make a Big Difference to Your Longevity, 30 minutes of walking a day is the single best prescription to improve your health. The impact of walking is so dramatic that I felt that it deserved a dedicated blog to celebrate its benefits in more detail.
It keeps your body fit and healthy
“If you don’t use it, you lose it” is a motto that increases in urgency as we age. The rate that we lose muscle mass, bone mass and aerobic capacity increases exponentially later in life, so it’s crucial that your body is frequently stressed to maintain your fitness.
Research comparing sedentary and active elderly populations showed that the sedentary group lost an average of 40% of their aerobic capacity (the amount of oxygen the body absorbs during exercise and a measure of one’s fitness) over a 15-20 year period while the active group lost just 13%.
Moderate impact exercise, such as walking, also promotes the constant turnover of new bone which can slow down the onset of osteoporosis and significantly reduce the risk of debilitating bony injuries such as hip fractures.
The physical benefits of walking go on and on: it can reduce blood pressure, reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, various cancers and numerous other conditions.
Walking is the easiest exercise option for any able-bodied person, and London is one of the best cities in the world to walk in with plenty of green space, so there’s no excuse not to squeeze in a daily 30 minute walk.
It’s the best time to work on your posture
Unlike running or working, walking is a relaxed activity that leaves you with spare physical and mental energy to focus on secondary tasks, making it the perfect time to correct postural problems such as an anterior pelvic tilt or a hunched upper back. Postural problems are more than just an aesthetic issue, they can also cause pain and maladaptive movement patterns, both of which can be obstacles to staying active.
For example, while walking you can try to keep your abdominal muscles activated at a low intensity, or pinch your shoulder blades together and slightly tuck in your chin to correct the position of your upper back and neck. The advice I like to give is to imagine that you’re a puppet whose strings are being pulled upwards.
If this is not your usual walking posture, you’ll feel additional pressure on muscles and tendons throughout your body, so use gradual interval training like you would for any other exercise. Eventually, you’ll be able to maintain a neutral posture throughout your walk, which will strengthen the muscles that keep you upright when sitting or standing as well.
It keeps your mind active and mood happy
Equally important to the physical benefits of walking are the benefits for your mental and emotional well being. Walking is proven to be highly beneficial in preventing depression, reducing the risk of dementia and general mental decline.
Our brains are supposed to be observing the world around us and processing the endless supply of stimulus that the outdoors provides – staying cooped up indoors is quite literally mind-destroying.
It’s also much easier to maintain conversation when walking than running or cycling, making it an opportunity to socialise with friends old or new. There are walking clubs throughout London that arrange local walks or walks in the countryside if you want to find people to walk with.
The Walking for Health website has a directory of walking groups which can be searched with your post code. Their walks are run by trained walk leaders who can provide assistance for people whose walking is made difficult by health conditions or disabilities. If this blog has inspired you to walk, the Walking for Health site is the perfect place to start.
Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapist, Research Lead at West London Physiotherapy
For any other questions regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact West London Physio on 0207 937 1628 or email David at david.wynne@westlondonphysio.