Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness. We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities, so our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life. Check out our latest Health Hint on the benefits of walking. We hope you find it helpful. If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario, please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities.
Often when we think of exercise, we think of strenuous activities like strength training, running, Zumba classes, etc. While those can all be excellent sources of physical activity, there is also great benefit in one of the most basic forms of movement, walking.
Walking as Exercise
Walking is considered a form of cardiovascular activity (cardio), and, like other cardio based movements, it increases your heart rate, which in turn improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Increased heart rate and blood flow leads to the release of endorphins (a hormone) and the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. This is the same benefits seen from other cardio exercises such as running or cycling, but without the associated risks.
Why Choose Walking?
While forms of cardio, such as running, can be great for your health, they can be hard on your joints over time and pose a higher risk of injury. Walking, on the other hand is considered low-impact but moderate-intensity and does not put the same strain on your joints, leading to far less occurrence of strain or injury.
Additionally, walking is accessible and affordable. It does not require special training, skills or equipment and can be done anywhere. Walking can be done indoors or outdoors, on a track or around your neighborhood, on a treadmill or in your office building, etc.
Benefits of Walking
There is plenty of research that confirms that walking is an effective method of exercise, at any age, and provides many great benefits.
According to the May Clinic, regular brisk walking can aid in:
- Reducing stress, tension, and anxiety
- Maintaining a healthy body weight or losing body fat
- Increasing energy levels
- Improving muscle endurance
- Strengthening your immune system
- Improving balance and coordination
- Strengthening bones and muscles
- Improving mood, sleep, memory, and cognition
- Preventing or managing conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, and type 2 diabetes
Effectiveness of Walking
Many people think that to get the full benefits you must be doing high-intensity activities, but research has regularly shown this to not be the case. According to Harvard School of Public Health, a study following a large cohort of runners and walkers found that after a 6-year follow-up, moderate-intensity activity offered similar health benefits to high-intensity activities in terms of reducing the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It was found that the faster the walking pace, the greater risk reduction that was seen.
Proper Walking Technique
The Mayo clinic provides this image to outline the proper technique when walking.
Consider your technique
They note the following cues to be aware of when walking:
- Head is up. Looking forward, not at the ground.
- Neck, shoulders and back are relaxed, not stiffly upright.
- Arms are swinging freely with a slight bend in the elbows. Light pumping of the arms is okay.
- Stomach muscles are slightly tightened and back is straight, not arched forward or backward.
- Walking smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.
How to Build a Fitness Routine Around Walking
The beauty of running is that anyone can start, at any time. No matter how fast or slow you are, you can begin walking and set goals from there. The distance, speed, and frequency of your walks can be adjusted as you get more and more comfortable. It is important to start at a point that is safe and comfortable for your current fitness and mobility and adjust from there, over time. Research has shown that the farther, faster, and more frequently you walk the greater health benefits you will reap, so those are the three areas to set goals for yourself, to work towards over time. This could include starting with a casual, slower pace and each week working to increase your speed mildly with the goal of working your way up to a fast-paced walk. Or you could start out walking for 10 minutes a day and set a goal of working your way up to walking for a full hour daily. There is also the option to incorporate interval training into your walks. This means that you alternate periods of brisk walking with periods of slower-paced walking. Interval training has been shown to improve overall speed, cardiovascular health, and calorie burn.
Beginning a new fitness routine takes motivation and discipline. In the beginning, before you begin seeing results it can be difficult to stick to your new routine. Below are some suggestions that may help:
- Share your goals: telling friends and family about your goals provides accountability
- Recruit a friend: ask a friend to join you for your walks or start a walking group in your neighbourhood
- Make your goals realistic and achievable. Start with your current capabilities in mind and then set small, attainable milestone goals that will work you gradually to your overall goal.
- Schedule it: don’t make your walks an afterthought. Prioritize them by putting them in your schedule so you know you will have time for them. If your schedule allows, pick a consistent time each day that you will head out for your walk.
- Make it enjoyable: if you can’t find a friend to join you, or if you prefer to walk alone, make your walk enjoyable. Listen to music or a podcast, call someone on the phone while you walk, take your dog.
- Switch up your route: if walking the same route every day if boring for you, switch it up! Pick new routes around your neighbourhood or go to a nearby trail or park for new scenery. Walking can be a great way to explore new areas as well, so branch out!
- Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day: while it is important to have a plan and try to stick to it, life happens! If you are trying to build a sustainable exercise regime, it is important to recognize that missed days are part of that. It is about the bigger picture of consistency, so don’t beat yourself up over it!
We hope you enjoyed our latest Health Hint!