Walk this way: Why you should step it up

It’s free and you can pretty much do it anywhere … don’t underestimate the power of walking for good health.

If the thought of lifting weights or running on the treadmill turns you off exercise, keep it simple with a daily walk.

We often overlook the benefits of this easy way of staying active, says Corneel Vandelanotte, who leads the Physical Activity Research Group at Central Queensland University.

“Evidence shows that low-intensity physical activity, such as walking, has a lot of health benefits,” says Corneel, who supports the 10,000 Steps campaign to encourage Australians to get moving every day.

“There are studies that show the number of steps you take is linked to your longevity and walking has benefits for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. You can start slowly and then build to longer walks or a brisker pace as you get fitter.

Corneel says people usually take a couple of thousand steps just by doing their usual daily activities.

“But it’s hard to reach 10,000 steps unless you go out for a walk for half an hour or so,” says Corneel.

“The more walking you do, the better the effect. The higher the intensity of your walk, the better as well.

“If you have not been exercising regularly, start walking because people who do no exercise at all and then do something get the biggest gain in health benefits.”

walking benefits

Why is walking important for our health and wellbeing?

  • A study from Harvard School of Public Health found walking reduces the impact of genes that affect weight gain. The study found that an hour’s walk each day can lessen the effect of those genes by about 50 per cent.
  • A study at Appalachian State University in the US found a moderate to brisk walk for 30 to 45 minutes a day makes our immune system stronger. Regular walkers had around 43 per cent fewer days off sick and got fewer colds.
  • Regular walking also holds some hope for arthritis. A study found people aged 60-plus who walked regularly experienced fewer painful symptoms.
  • Children also benefit when they walk. Government statistics show four out of five children don’t do the recommended one hour of physical activity each day. Walking helps children develop healthy bones, muscles, heart, lungs and it helps them maintain a healthy body weight and posture. Physical activity is also important for brain development.

Top tips to get walking

  • Wear a pedometer to keep track of your steps each day and to encourage you to walk just a bit further to reach the 10,000 steps target.
  • You don’t have to do 30 or 40 minutes of walking in one hit. You can do short bursts of 10 minutes throughout the day – at lunchtime, on your coffee break or after dinner. Read more on why mini-workouts can work wonders.
  • Aim to walk every day. “The health benefits go away when you stop walking. It’s a challenge that never ends,” says Corneel.
  • If you haven’t exercised for years, start slowly. Doing something is better than doing nothing.
  • Build to a brisk walk when you are ready. Brisk walking means you will huff and puff but can still hold a conversation.
  • Stay motivated by walking with a friend or joining a walking group, or a challenge such as 10,000 Steps.

October is Walk to School Month.

Written by Sarah Marinos