Walking for Health

JPP_3525The benefits of walking may be well known but it has come to my attention that there are a number of initiatives ‘out there’ attempting to bring the public outdoors and walking. A recent article from Absolute 360 concluded that it is actually better to walk than run! Citing a study by the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Verona the conclusion was that the optimum speed for fat burning was a very reasonable 2.5 mph (4km/h). “Increasing; the walking speed to 5 km/h or 6km/h did not increase the fat burning rate. Although the participants burned more carbohydrates when they increased their walking speed, researchers found the moderate walking pace promoted the highest fat to carbohydrate burning ratio, which is recommend for weight loss. In practical terms; an overweight person weighing 70 Kg who walks for 40 minutes at a pace of 4km/h burns 150 calories and 6 g of fat. Increasing the walking speed to 6 km/h, the same person would burn the same amount of calories in the lesser time of 27 minutes but the fat burnt would only be 3 g.” The article went on to conclude that “30 minutes, 3 days a week, is enough to start getting the benefit of this simple but often neglected form of exercise. Ideally, you would want to gradually increase this to 5 times a week.” Some of the benefits highlighted were:

  • Walking prevents type 2 diabetes
  • Walking strengthen your heart
  • Walking is good for your brain
  • Walking is good for your bones
  • Walking helps alleviate the symptoms of depression
  • Walking reduces the risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Walking improves fitness
  • Walking improves physical function  [Source]

In a recent BBC piece a University of Cambridge study declared unsurprisingly “that getting everyone to do at least 20 minutes of brisk walking a day would have substantial benefits”. However, perhaps less surprising was the observation that while “exercise was beneficial for people of any weight” it was ‘thin’ people who had a “higher risk of health problems” if sedentary. [Source] So the message is clear. Fat or thin, little or large get off the sofa and get out walking.

wfh2013_logoOne of the initiatives, Walking for Health, run by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support, provide around 3,000 weekly walks led by over 10,000 trained volunteers “who are on hand to provide encouragement and support, and make sure no one gets left behind”. Recognising that over half the adult population of the UK doesn’t get enough exercise it has been motivated for over 12 years and looks a great place to start exploring the benefits of walking. However, as their strapline indicates, the problem is not just about getting people outside but rather about keeping them there. You would think that a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, to name but a few, would be motivation enough. [Source]

Physical health is one thing but walking can also be good for helping to deal with mental health issues. Studies have shown that, in combination with medication and therapy, walking can benefit those suffering with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder etc. The Mental Health Foundation explains that “research has shown that exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good – boosting your self-esteem, helping you concentrate as well as sleep, look and feel better. Not bad for something we can quite easily do for free!” Harvard Health Publications believe that exercise may be an effective way to help improve your mood. By releasing serotonin and other endorphins, exercise can be useful in treating depression.

mhflogoA few benefits of exercise are:

  • less tension, stress and mental fatigue
  • a natural energy boost
  • improved sleep
  • a sense of achievement
  • focus in life and motivation
  • less anger or frustration
  • a healthy appetite
  • better social life
  • Having fun

The BBC reported that a study in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity showed walking had a “large effect” on depression. [Source]. Often the process can also lead to developing more confidence socially, leading to greater self-confidence and improved self-worth. I can certainly testify to the positive effect that walking has had in helping me deal with bipolar disorder and improving my self esteem through losing weight, setting and achieving goals and committing to a routine (well, most of the time).

So what are you waiting for start walking…