Experts give us the facts on whether daily walks are really enough to take us to our weekly exercise goals.
Whether you took up regular walking to get out of the house during lockdown or you’ve always enjoyed the headspace a daily walk can give you, this has most certainly been a year for lacing up your trainers and getting out into nature. You might even be looking to commit to keeping them going with your New Year’s resolution.
But what exactly are the physical and mental health benefits of walking? Is walking every day really enough to see us through to our weekly exercise goals? And are there any particular techniques you can try to boost the benefits?
We asked Kerry Dixon, personal trainer and founder of The Athlete Method, and Dr Sarah Davies from Panacea Health for their expert insights into this easy and accessible form of exercise.
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What are the benefits of walking?
Kerry believes that walking is seriously underrated. While it isn’t as high intensity as other forms of cardio such as running, “it is effective in its own right, and no matter how fit you are, it is extremely beneficial”. Walking is particularly good for people who suffer with “knee, ankle or back problems”, says Kerry, as it can “reduce pain and improve your circulation and posture”.
There are a whole load of benefits you can get from walking. According to Dr Davies, it can help you “improve your breathing, lower your heart rate, feel happier, feel more connected to your environment, and feel less pain”, if you struggle with pain-related health issues.
However, Dr Davies wants us to bear in mind that it’s best not to do the same thing every single day. Varying your exercise is important, because it allows for well-rounded development of the muscles and challenges the brain.
How often do you need to walk to be sure you’re getting enough exercise?
According to the NHS, adults should be doing “at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week”. Walking counts towards this weekly exercise goal, and can help you build stamina and improve cardiovascular health – but you have to make sure you’re going at a “brisk” pace. During the exercise, Dr Davies says that “you should feel your heart racing a bit, your breathing should be more laboured, and you should break out into somewhat of a sweat”.
Kerry recommends “a daily walk of at least 30 minutes”. This is the best way to “increase cardiovascular fitness, help to strengthen your bones, and boost muscle endurance and power”. However, Tashi Skervin, a runner, trainer, and founder of fitness bootcamp TSC Method, says that everyone is different. “Someone with quite a sedentary lifestyle will require more movement, whereas someone whose job involves them moving all day won’t need as much to ensure they reach the minimum amount required”, she says.
What technique should you use?
According to Kerry “practising good posture is important” while walking, so that the exercise is comfortable and efficient. So, “keep your head up, lengthen your back, drop your neck and shoulders, and try to engage your core”. You also need to make sure you “swing your arms with each step, to create momentum”.
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Dr Davies recommends “finding your baseline duration each session”. Your baseline is basically “whatever you can manage without causing problems”, such as losing your form or injuring yourself. She suggests aiming to build from your baseline by at most eight to 10 percent each week, to ensure you keep your “heart, lungs, muscles and other body systems” challenged.
It can also help to vary the intensity of the exercise. Tashi says that “some of your walks could be long and slow, and others can be short and brisk, and this will help to work different energy systems and improve your cardiovascular health”.
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