Walking is the easiest form of exercise to build into our lifestyle as most of us walk somewhere at sometime, and as a regular activity brisk walking can provide a range of health benefits.
Walking is a low-impact form of aerobic exercise which most of us can undertake regardless of our level of physical fitness. It puts less strain on joints than other types of exercise such as running and is a weight-bearing activity which can improve bone density, as well as improve the condition of heart and lungs; work and tone lower body muscles and improve posture. Walking can also help strengthen bones as it increases the calcium content of the bone, help relieve aches, pains and stiffness in joints and muscles and is believed by some migraine sufferers to reduce the frequency of migraines.
There are many opportunities to walk at all year round both indoors or out without little thought or preparation regarding the location or route. Walking outdoors enables us to enjoy the countryside and is enjoyed by most during the fair weather months. Walking can be an independent activity, or one to share with friends and family or the dog. Dedicated walkers need not endure cold and dark nights as they can use an indoor treadmill which offers the benefit of being able to set the gradients, measure time and overall performance.
Walking up hill or on any kind of incline is particularly good to improve the fitness of the heart and lungs. Speed or power walking is becoming an increasingly popular form of aerobic exercise which offers the same benefits as running but is lower impact and therefore much easier on your joints. Power walking involves walking faster than you normally would and more aggressively, and offers many benefits – it burns calories, tones muscles in the buttocks, thighs, hips, shoulders, upper back and abs and makes you look slimmer.
There are many opportunities to walk in groups by joining a rambling club which involves following a variety of organised routes of varying lengths across the countryside. In addition to a range of health benefits, rambling can also provide social benefits. Hill walking is an option for the more adventurous, it is more demanding in terms of effort and energy and should be planned carefully to include rest periods for muscles to recover.
Walkers who want to exercise at a more competitive level should consider race walking.
Where should I start?
If you feel walking is the exercise for you should start off walking gently at a pace and speed you feel comfortable with, for example 30-40 minutes a week and then each week gradually increase your speed and distance. Remember not overdo things to start with as this will result in strain or injury and you will lose the impetus to continue.
What do I need to get started?
For most types of walking the only thing you will need is a pair of sensible shoes or trainers appropriate for walking and waterproof clothing. If you are walking for long periods of time, or are venturing off road or up hills you are advised to invest in a pair of proper walking boots which will offer the required level of support for your ankles and have gripping soles. For hill walking and rambling it is advisable to take a rucksack with a drink of water, food, additional clothing suited to the weather conditions, a first aid kit, map and compass. For mountain or winter walking it is essential to prepare yourself against the elements with warm clothing and a range of essential supplies to keep you going.
Some general tips to get your walking started:
- Start off by walking to the local shops of walking somewhere where you would normally drive or take public transport.
- If you work - use lunchtimes to walk or set aside time in the day when you could go for a walk.
- Try to plan different routes for walking making them further in distance where possible to help you increase your distance gradually.
- Start off slowly and as you warm up increase the intensity of the exercise.
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