Exercise is good for your health and mental health, and most people know this. But not everyone can be bothered. A few people get enough exercise in their daily work and life. Some people exercise in one form or another. Some people go to the gym regularly. But many people simply don’t get enough exercise.
Nowadays, most of us walk to the car, drive to the shops, walk around the shop, and drive home again. Or drive to work, walk in and around the office a bit, then drive home again. It’s just not enough on its own.
So what is the best type of exercise? Well, the two best answers are swimming and running. These types of exercise use more muscles and get you fitter sooner. Swimming can be relatively expensive so is best as part of a gym membership, unless you have your own pool. Jogging is free, unless you want to buy a running machine so you can run in the garage or spare room.
But the easiest and cheapest answer is walking. The majority of the population are capable of walking to some degree. It’s easy, we’ve been doing it for most of our life. So why don’t we do more of it? Let’s face it, when we were kids, we walked, we ran, we swam, and we’ve probably never been as fit since.
Regular exercise is the best. Walking once a week, for example, is OK but it’s not as good as walking three, four, or more times a week. Better still is a short walk every day. Even half an hour every day will make you feel better, as well as improve your fitness. A brisk pace or a longer walk will help to burn more calories too.
Early morning is a good time to walk, the air is cooler and fresher. It’s usually quieter and more peaceful; you can usually hear birds singing. It helps to relax the mind and body before the daily ‘onslaught’. Many people prefer evenings to walk; the stressful day is nearly over, so you can wind down and enjoy a peaceful walk and see the sun go down, which is a beautiful sight in itself.
It doesn’t have to be a high-pressure walk; a steady pace is one that you can keep up for half-hour at least without breathing too hard. Get up a half-hour earlier. Walk to the local park; if it’s close by, walk around it too. Walk to the gym, whether you plan to go in or not; 20 minutes walk is about one mile depending on how fast you walk.
If you can combine your walk with your journey to work, either by walking to work or by stopping off at the local park or woodland with your walking boots in the car with you, that will be even more beneficial and you’re not actually wasting much precious time, so you can feel good about that too.
The benefits of walking
Depending on how much effort you put into the exercise, will depend on how much it increases your heart rate, which will pump more oxygen to the brain. Exercise releases endorphins in your brain which can reduce stress hormones and alleviate mild depression. Walking regularly can also alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
Some people say walking gives you thinking time and you notice more when you’re walking. Often other people will nod or say ‘good morning’, unless they’re dashing to work themselves. I have found that dog-walkers are generally quite polite and sociable and, if you have a dog of your own, there is no excuse for not walking.
Walking is a low-impact sport, unlike jogging (you may have heard the phrase ‘pounding the pavement’); so if you are overweight or have a mild knee or other joint problem, walking could be better for you.
Walking has been proven to have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It is a natural energy boost and relieves tension and stress. It helps you sleep better and boosts your overall mood. It can also improve memory and cognitive function. You find a sense of achievement and feel less angry or frustrated.
Walking, along with many other forms of exercise, can aid a healthy appetite, help you have fun, and enjoy nature. It can serve as a distracter or coping mechanism and help you to focus and motivate yourself in a positive way.
Walking can help you maintain a healthy weight and strengthen your bones and muscles. It can also help prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
The drawbacks of walking
If you have severe joint problems, whether through being overweight, arthritis, or other health problems, you might be better off with something like swimming or aerobics. When you go to the swimming pool or sports centre, make sure you discuss any problems you do have before you start. Someone with a knee replacement, for example, might have trouble kneeling to do aerobics exercises. Swimming is a no-impact sport, your muscles are stretching and pulling through water which is heavy and resists to a limited degree, but is not hard like the road surface.
Too much walking can be bad for you. Taking part in endurance walks or marathons, especially if you are not fit, could place too much load on the heart.
Walking long distances on hard surfaces can cause shin splints. Walking in worn out or ill-fitting shoes or boots can also cause foot pain or blisters.
Walking can put you at risk of falls or other injuries. If you’re walking through open or wild countryside always carry your mobile phone in a secure pocket and tell someone where you’re going. A small backpack with a few simple things like your mobile, waterproof outer clothing, a bottle of water or a flask, snack or lunch, and a hat, shouldn’t be too heavy and can make the morning or afternoon so much more enjoyable, and might even be essential in case of bad weather or a fall.
Wear sensible, comfortable shoes or boots that fit properly. Wearing in new shoes or boots should be done gradually – try wearing them for an hour or two in the evening at home, while doing regular chores or sitting on the sofa watching TV. They will start to adjust to your feet without the pressures of distance walking. When you wear them out the first time, do a short walk to test them, they may need more wearing in to be comfortable for your regular walks.
If you are following basic exercise guidelines – such as 30 minutes a day, five days a week – it’s unlikely you will see any negative consequences from walking. So get out there and walk.
Remember, if you have any health problems, speak to your doctor or another health professional before you start walking.
Susan Butler is an editor for Psychreg. She is passionate about finding ways to lead more balanced lives and improve overall health and well-being.