We used to take pleasure in walking, or ‘going for a stroll’ as it might have been referred to.
Before modern-day two car families and busy schedules that mean everyone is against the clock, there were whole generations for whom a good walk was a daily routine — and healthier they were for it.
Further back, ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates extolled the benefits, famously saying: “Walking is man’s best medicine.”
And it seems scientists and sports professionals today back him up.
“Walking is a really good form of exercise and can help you reach many of your fitness and weight-loss goals,” explained leading certified exercise physiologist, John Ford at JKF Fitness & Health in New York City.
“As a lifelong track athlete who has marvelled at race walkers (check out the Olympic walkers on YouTube!), I don’t scoff at walking… in fact, walking is the suggested workout over running for many people. For example, those with knee, ankle and back problems and also for people who are overweight to obese. He added that since walking is a lower impact exercise it can be done for longer periods of time.
Walking Vs running
But how does walking fare against going for a run, fitness wise?
A couple of years ago, researchers in the US compared the results of a National Runners’ Health Study with the National Walkers’ Health Study and discovered that the energy people burned for moderate intensity walking and vigorous intensity running caused similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
And a recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine came up with similar findings, suggesting that individuals who stuck to a set daily walking programme improved everything from blood pressure to body fat — and even improved depression scores.
Meanwhile, for older women who may feel pressured to join a noisy local Zumba class or take up aqua aerobics to keep their heart fit, there is some fascinating research by the American College of Cardiology. After assessing the walking habits of 89,000 post-menopausal women over ten years, analysts discovered that the more a woman walked, the faster she did it — and especially if she did it for as long a time as possible — she dramatically lowered her risk of heart failure.
As for men, there is a surprising link between regular walking and virility. A two mile walk a day at a decent pace can significantly reduce men’s risk of bad urological health, according to Dr Irwin Goldstein from the Boston University School of Medicine — an original pioneer in the subject.
It may also be surprising to learn that studies have shown walking can reduce the pain caused by arthritis, with some suggesting that a good five mile walk a week can even prevent the onset of the affliction.
But aside from physical benefits, there’s an overall psychological aspect too that shouldn’t be ignored say experts. Walking regulates breathing and reduces stress, allowing the participant to be more present and regain clear-headedness if the concerns of daily life have started to pile in. It’s the original mindfulness practice.
“People seem to be interested in walking as a health benefit, but here, we’re seeing it’s not just cardiovascular health and other kinds of physical health that are important, but psychological health as well,” said Robert Thayer, a professor of psychology at California State University. “The more a person walks has a very real and immediate psychological effect that an individual can experience every day.”
Over 20 days, the professor’s team studied 37 people — 12 men and 25 women — during which time each person wore a pedometer on their waist from morning until bedtime. At the end of each day everyone had to rate how they felt based on judgements of their experience of that particular day — how happy they were, self-esteem levels, depressive thoughts and so on. At the same time they recorded the number of steps taken during the day as per the pedometer.
“We found a clear and strong relationship between the number of steps they took and their overall mood and energy level,” said Thayer.
An extra bonus of time out walking is arguably the most valuable — simply being immersed in the great outdoors. Whether it’s listening to the birds or observing the changing weather, walking gives you a connection to nature and the beauty of external life that an hour in a luxurious, gadget filled gym simply can’t.