It is particularly hard to keep exercising as the days get shorter, colder and wetter in the winter months. It is free activity that in most cases can be done with relative ease. The benefits of walking are well documented and as far back as the Greek philosopher Hipprocrates who stated “walking is man’s best medicine”. Here are five of the main reasons why walking is good for us.
- A better night’s sleep
Research in Australia found that people who walked 7000 steps a day or more had far better sleep than those who didn’t and even a short walk was better than nothing. They concluded that you were more likely to be physically active if you were well rested and if you were physically active you were more likely to be tired so you would sleep better. Chicken and egg scenario really!
- Our brains get a boost
Physical activity helps boost brain function. Some research published earlier this year found exercises including regular walking improved brain function in adults with or without cognitive impairments. New guidelines from the World Health Organisation for the risk of reducing cognitive decline and dementia suggests walking is more beneficial for preventing cognitive decline than any of the brain training games. It is thought that walking causes the brain to make more connections through the increased blood flow and mental calculation required during physical activity.
- Reduces the risk of conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes
Regular and adequate levels of exercises have lots of positive outcomes including improved muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness, improved bone health and reduce the risk of falls. In addition, exercises also reduces the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various types of cancer (including breast cancer and colon cancer), and depression.
Exercises improves blood flow which pumps nutrients and oxygen around the body to our organs. It increased the heart rate which can strengthen the heart musculature and helps us manage our weight.
- Improves our mood
As well as helping to relieve the physical tension that results from stress, exercises like walking can positively affect the parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood. Research has shown that walking helps to alleviate the symptoms of depression and, exercise is an effective as anti-depressants in reducing depression in some incidences. Also, being physically active is more likely to reduce the risk of relapse. In addition, getting more people walking in today’s world would bring communities and society together which means people are making new acquaintances and friends as they walk and talk.
- Live longer
Earlier this year a Harvard study showed that in older women who walked between 4,400 – 7,500 steps per day had a significantly lower premature mortality compared to women the same age who were inactive.
How much walking should I be doing?
The World Health Organisation recommends adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intense physical activity per week unless there are specific medical reasons that contradict this and this should be discussed with your GP. This is the minimum amount of exercise. For example, this could be 30minutes of fast walking five times per week. For additional health benefits muscle-strengthening exercises two days per week.