In a culture that glorifies hardcore workouts that have you collapsing on the floor in a sweaty puddle, puking your guts up, or even getting Rhabdomyolysis (a condition where excessive exercise causes muscle tissue to breakdown and damage the kidneys), it’s easy to fall into the mindset of thinking that walking doesn’t ‘count’, whatever that means.
But walking is amazing in so many ways. In my opinion, walking is the most underrated form of exercise.
I’ve always been a fan of walking. One summer, to save money to go abroad, I gave my up Underground season ticket for a month and walked the 7.5 miles home from work every day. I loved that this gave me a couple of hours of alone time after work, to decompress, listen to podcasts, and just generally get lost in my own thoughts. It also gave me the opportunity to discover loads of parts of London and see things I would have otherwise missed.
In today’s culture of ‘busy busy busy’ there is something almost indulgent about taking an hour or two out of your day to just walk.
What’s more, it’s amazing for you. Walking has the potential to play a key role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in pretty much all populations; young and old, men and women, healthy and those with existing illnesses. This study looked at the benefits of walking in older adults and found that, “A surprisingly small increase in walking was associated with meaningful health benefits”. In fact, walking has the same health benefits as jogging, and in my opinion is so much more enjoyable!
Walking is a simple and safe way of reducing rates of chronic disease; it doesn’t require any special equipment (except maybe a pair of comfy shoes), it’s free, it’s easy and, physical disabilities aside, it’s accessible almost anyone regardless of fitness levels. If you’re just starting out, its easy to walk at a gentle pace for a short time and build up from there.
As this study concluded, “Walking is the most natural activity and the only sustained dynamic aerobic exercise that is common to everyone except for the seriously disabled or very frail. No special skills or equipment are required. Walking is convenient and may be accommodated in occupational and domestic routines. It is self-regulated in intensity, duration and frequency, and, having a low ground impact, is inherently safe. Unlike so much physical activity, there is little, if any, decline in middle age. It is a year-round, readily repeatable, self-reinforcing, habit-forming activity and the main option for increasing physical activity in sedentary populations.”
As well as the physical benefits, walking also has a beneficial effect on mood especially if you walk in green spaces or a park. Walking has been shown to improve mood (even when it is just incidental to daily activity, and not exercise per se) and also to help shift us out of ‘flight or flight’ mode by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. From heartbreak to writer’s block, I have found there are few problems in life that don’t feel better after a walk out in the fresh air.
It’s hard to think of a downside to walking. Even bad weather can be made tolerable with the right clothing and footwear. So if you haven’t made walking a regular part of your routine yet, what are you waiting for?