Charlotte Rose Daniells
Walking has the power to completely reshape and rejuvenate your wellbeing. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, can reduce stress, improve mood, boost energy levels and sharpen alertness.
Walking is a type of low-cardiovascular exercise and so has the power to bring blood pressure down and burn calories – in turn helping to maintain a healthy weight. In this blog post, we examine how walking is linked to improved mental health, enjoyable ways to walk more, and how you can keep track of your progress.
Findings from studies have been published by mentalhealth.org that report that exercising three times a week can reduce your risk of depression by up to 30%. But how does it work?
Mood: Walking releases endorphins, which increase feelings of wellbeing. The more you walk, the more endorphins you produce. Walking will also increase your heart rate and in doing so improve blood flow and speed up oxygen delivery throughout the body. All of which helps to reduce stress levels, think more clearly and feel more energised.
Self-esteem: A 30-minute walk can burn up to 300 calories, reduce sweet cravings and help to achieve a healthy appetite. This helps to maintain a healthy weight, keeping self-esteem and confidence levels up and stress levels down.
Improved sleep: In a National Library of Medicine study on sleep health it was reported that participants who were more active, and took more steps, reported sleeping better than those who were less active. Better sleep being defined as achieving deeper, better quality sleep leading to feeling more rested. In turn, this can mean being able to think more clearly, reduce feeling of stress, and improve concentration levels.
Better energy: Walking improves blood flow to the brain which means you are left feeling more energised. Feeling more energised means you are able to engage with your daily activities better and more energy is an instant mood booster, especially combined with the increase of endorphins too. More energy can mean being more productive and so achieving more and in turn this leads to feelings of satisfaction and relief.
Connecting with nature during your walk can boost the sense of peace, calm and relaxation. So clear your thoughts and involve all your senses. Allow your eyes to linger intentionally on the beauty of buds, bark and branches; follow the trail of a squirrel or the swoop of a swallow. Feel the wind circle your face, taking deep breathes to inhale the sweet scent of blossom, or the distinctive aroma of the earth after it’s rained.
Choosing where to walk around nature can be half the battle, especially if you live in a city. Canal paths, local parks, community gardens and nature reserves can all provide solace though - allowing you to escape the tarmac and feel grounded and at ease. The Go Jauntly app helps you to discover nature walks in your local area.
Whether in the city, country or by the sea, walks can be a fun activity and so much more than just trudging for the sake of your step count.
Music: Create a playlist with your favourite songs to put a skip in your stride and provide the desire to keep moving.
Podcast: Listen to an episode of your favourite podcast or perhaps a guided meditation, to help you relax and rewind whilst you walk. Spotify have something for everyone.
Socialising: Walking with friends, family or joining a walking group enables you to socialise and can be a fantastic way to combine a social mood-boost with improving your fitness. The ramblers have groups across UK towns and cities, and you can find your local group here.
Turn it up a notch? Give brisk walking a go and get your heart rate going faster with higher intensity walking. This means oxygen gets around your body faster. A good marker is that you should be able to talk but not sing when brisk walking. The NHS recommends that you aim for 30 minutes of brisk walking a day, five times a week to improve wellbeing.
If you are interested in team sports such as football but are looking for something that is low-intensity and a slower pace, then a walking team sport might just be for you. Walking football, for example, is still a good workout; playing one hour a week for three months you would typically cover 30 miles and burn 4,200 calories. Importantly, it offers the opportunity to socialise with other players whilst boosting your wellbeing, energy, and mood from the walking workout.
Find your local walking football team at Walking Football United County Football Association.
Keep track of your walks by downloading an app to your smartphone. This will help you set goals, assess if your walking qualifies as brisk, and log how many minutes you are clocking each day. The NHS has a free app, Active 10, that does all of the above. Most smartphones have an inbuilt pedometer to keep track of your steps, or you can download one from your device’s app store. We have shared two of our favourite apps below:
Fitbit app: You can still track your steps and walking workouts with Fitbit, even if you don’t have the device, by downloading the app and using the mobile tracker. After each walk or workout, you are able to track route, distance, time, pace, calories burned, and steps.
Map my Walk: You can view and track the time spent walking, distance, pace, speed, elevation, and calories burned. You can even use saved routes again and find inspiration for future walks by viewing routes that other users have completed in your local area.
Fitness watch: Track your steps, heartrate, and sleep with a smart watch and assess whether you are on track to meet your fitness goals. You can access amazing Fitbit and apple watch offers through UK leading insurers we are partnered with. Bupa offer 20% off Fitbit products and Vitality offers an Apple Watch offer through qualifying health insurance plans with a points system where the more you move, the less you will pay.
The golden number often touted for general health and fitness is 10,000 steps a day, which can seem like a lot. However, there’s research to suggest that a smaller number of steps can still have profound effects on your health and wellbeing. Dr Rogers recommends the ideal number to reap all of those health benefits is between 6000 and 9000 in the Health Benefits of Walking episode of the Common Sense podcast.
Alternative ways to easily get your steps in as follows:
Working day: You could try adding more walking to your commute to the office, walking around the office or your home, or going on a lunchtime walk around your home or office.
Daily activities: You could swap driving to the supermarket for your food shop for a walk instead which will also save money on petrol and is more environmentally friendly.
Gardening: You could do some gardening in your free time which will quickly clock up steps and help you to connect with nature, and if you need to pick up some materials, then walk to the local shop too.
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