The benefits of walking
There are a variety of ways walking can positively impact your life, and we’ve all experienced at least one during lockdown. But why exactly is it important?
You will most likely be surprised with how far you generally walk doing day-to-day activities, and you probably don’t even think about it much or consider it a form of exercise—let alone an exercise that actually works! But walking for a mere 30 minutes a day can be extremely beneficial to both your mental and physical health. Granted, it needs to be a consistent walk rather than just adding up your daily steps, but what’s 30 minutes out of your day? Here’s why everyone should be getting up and walking more:
Benefits of Walking for Physical Health
Any exercise is good for your health; whether you’re a hard-core gym enthusiast, take Zumba classes twice a week, like twisting your body into a pretzel at yoga class, or enjoy some step aerobics in the comfort of your own home. A lot of people don’t have time to spend 45 minutes working out, and that’s not even adding on the time it takes to get ready, and then have a shower after said work-out (because no one wants to spend the rest of their day feeling stinky), not to mention travel time if you are going out to a class or the gym. So in reality, it’s closer to around 2 hours out of your day (and that’s still probably being a bit generous!).
Walking is the easier and more accessible alternative to carving out exercise time from your busy schedule. On average, a healthy adult should be taking around 10,000 steps a day. It sounds like a lot, but as stated before, you probably don’t realise how many steps you actually take in daily life. You can download a pedometer app on your phone, or get yourself a smart watch/fitness tracker and see how many steps you’ve done. This way you’ll be able to see how much more walking you need to do to reach your target. Some watches will even track your heartbeat and calories burnt too, which can be helpful if you are planning on losing weight.
Lose weight, we hear you ask dubiously? We know! You would think that burning calories requires a bit more exertion than walking, and whilst you won’t necessarily burn as much as you would going to the gym, it does work. It all depends on the distance covered, your walking speed, and the terrain. You can start off slow to build up strength, then progress until you’re able to walk up a steep incline without even slowing down to wipe the sweat off your brow!
Besides losing weight, walking can help strengthen your heart and reduces coronary heart risks, as the exercise makes your heart more efficient in delivering oxygen to other organs. A more frequent walk of 15 minutes after every meal can help lower blood sugar levels better than just a 45 minute walk, it can boost your immune system and reduce the risk of cold and flu, and can also ease joint pain. For people with arthritis, walking can help protect joints, hips, and knees, so they have more range of motion without all that pain.
The mental health benefits from walking are actually pretty great. Social withdrawal has been a big issue for a lot of people over the last year, and organising walks with friends or family has helped people feel less alone. Humans are similar to dogs in certain ways (stay with us here!). Just like dogs need attention and affection, so do humans—you probably didn’t even realise how much you needed it until it was taken away from you last year. Whilst we don’t require lots of belly rubs to feel loved, being unable to hold someone’s hand or give them a hug can really add to mental strain.
If you are at home a lot, you can fall into a slump with the same routine over and over again. We don’t know about you, but whilst the thought of staying in our pyjamas all day is very appealing, after a while it can just add to the sluggishness. Putting on real clothes and going for a walk can almost make you feel like a whole new person and give you a different outlook on life; the fresh air can boost your mood and make you feel like you can breathe easier, and even simply saying hello to a passer-by can give you that much needed social interaction. Focusing on something else other than your anxieties such as what you can see around you, can also help to ground you and take your mind off your worries.
Benefits for work
Walking can help in your work life, too. If you’ve recently gone back to work, it can be a struggle to get yourself back into the swing of things (or even muster the desire to get out of your pyjamas!). Dynamics between your team mates could have changed, and your workload could have doubled, adding on to your stress and anxiety. A 30 minute walk—perhaps in your lunch break—can help your creative thinking. The fresh air will open up the free-flow of ideas and allow you to come back to work with a different mindset, suggestions, and a determination to complete your projects. Sometimes if you’re stuck for a solution to a problem, the best way to fix it is to stop thinking about it completely. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you just take a break and go for a walk to your local coffee shop or café, you might find that the solution appears on its own. Even walking to work can give you that spring in your step to start the day off right, as the boost in oxygen from the fresh air wakes you up. Walking home can give you the time to relax and put away any work stress until the next day.
You might even want to think about organising a team bonding experience in order to improve dynamics and get people back on track to being successful at work—almost like a refresher course in working together again. You could organise work specific seminars or team bonding activities like what we do at HPD to get your employees/team members to gel again, feel motivated, and have some fun (some of our Team Workshops are definitely a bit of a fun workout too!).
Will people continue walking?
Because of the pandemic, we’ve been in and out of lockdown enough times to give us whiplash. With no solid reassurance as to when we were allowed to get back to work, see friends and family again, it’s been tough to cope with. The fun and excitement of working from home quickly started to wear thin, people you live with were starting to get more annoying than usual, and if you were living alone the silence got pretty unbearable. With all four walls closing in, going out for a walk each day was a welcome reprieve from being locked in the house. It gave you something different to look at, fresh air in your lungs, and a good leg stretch. As we’re starting to move out (fingers crossed) of the era of the lockdown and we can start socialising again, it doesn’t mean you should abandon walking.
Living streets is a UK charity for everyday walking, and they aim to make walking a natural choice for everyday local journeys. They took a poll to discover the public’s thoughts on walking both during and after lockdown. Their study shows that 76% saw physical health benefits such as lower blood pressure and blood sugar. 56% saw mental health benefits such as a reduce in anxiety and stress, and feeling happier in themselves. Young people (18-24) were especially effected by walking; 50% of the young people taking part in the poll were a lot happier and found it easier to cope with the lockdown because they could meet up with their friends for walks.
Clearly this shows how good walking can be for you, but given the fact that it was really one of the only things you could do in lockdown, people had no choice but to do it if they wanted to stay sane. Now that things are getting back to normal, what does that mean for walking? Are people going to abandon it for other activities?
This question was also a part of the poll taken by Living Streets, and the results are similar to the ones above. 74% said they would continue walking in order to maintain their physical health, and 54% said they would do it to maintain their mental health. So for the people taking part in this poll, most of them are planning on continuing their walking activities in order to keep themselves in tip top physical and mental shape. It is also a great money saver, as you don’t have to fill up the car as often or pay for bus journeys.
Benefits to the environment
Not only does walking benefit the individual, but it also helps the environment! Motor vehicles contribute to a large portion of the air pollution, and walking instead of taking the car or bus can help to reduce it. This year there has been a massive reduction to the amount of carbon emissions produced due to people around the world being on lockdown and not travelling. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels fell by around 2.5 billion metric tons last year, transport being the most accountable for the reduction.
It can seem like the actions of one person won’t effect the rest of the world; that if you take the car into work today it wouldn’t really do much. But if you’ve had this thought, you can guarantee many others have had the same thought and decide to take their cars to work too, which adds to the pollution. Even the smallest acts can make a difference in the long run, and if walking keeps you healthy as well as help the planet, then it’s worth it right?
One step at a time
So now you know that there are many more benefits to walking than just being able to get to the fridge or walk to the toilet. The mental and physical impact on yourself is vastly positive, making you healthier and happier. And the environmental impact on the planet means we can make our world a better place to live for generations to come. It truly is the little things that can make a big difference, because if everyone did them, it can add up to a pretty big change.
So get out there and start walking!