Let’s get Walking. It can lift your mood, help you sleep and boost creativity. 123
New studies are showing strong evidence that a daily walk can benefit both our mental and physical wellbeing by reducing our risk of stroke, depression, dementia, coronary heart disease and other life-threatening conditions. But the University of East Anglia (UEA) has revealed alarming research that almost one in 10 people in England don’t manage to walk for more than five minutes at a time over a month. ‘Regular walking, particularly in groups, is one of the best and easiest ways to boost overall health,’ says Sarah Hanson of UEA. ‘The benefits go above and beyond making people more physically active.’
Walk off your worries
Just the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can lift your spirits enormously. Not only can you walk off your worries – ruminating over a problem while taking a stroll can put your anxieties into perspective – but walking can also help lift depression. Recent studies have shown how getting out into the green outdoors can enhance your mood by helping you to stop focusing on negative, repetitive thoughts. Research by Stanford University in the US showed that the area of the brain linked to an increased risk of mental illness was less active in those who walked in a natural setting.
Other research has shown that walking could be as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. It’s the feel-good endorphins your brain releases when exercising that can reduce stress and make you feel happy. The mental health charity Mind says 83 per cent of people with mental health issues claim exercise helps to boost their mood.
Walking also protects your brain; it promotes new connections between brain cells, increasing the volume of the hippocampus (the key memory area of your brain) and enhances neuron growth, reducing your risk of dementia by 40 per cent. Older people who walk six miles or more a week could avoid brain shrinkage and preserve memory, according to Age UK.
Strolling can even make you more creative. Another study at Stanford, which examined people when both walking and sitting, showed that walking can boost creative inspiration, whether you’re doing it inside or outside. Both Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook are known for their walking meetings. So you could have your best light-bulb moments while thinking on your feet.
Did you know?
- Regular walking (ideally at least half an hour a day, five days a week) could save 37,000 lives each year in England, according to the Walking Works report by Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support.
- A study of people aged 80 or over, by Rush University in Chicago, found that physical activity may create a ‘reserve’ that protects motor abilities from the effects of age-related brain damage.
- Your feet carry you some 150,000 miles in a lifetime.
Walk more, live longer
When you go for a walk, your heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen – not just to the muscles but to all your organs. Research by UEA showed that frequent walkers had lower blood pressure, lower resting heart rate and lower total cholesterol compared with infrequent walkers. That’s because walking lowers levels of LDL (bad cholesterol in your blood) while increasing levels of HDL (good cholesterol), and it keeps blood pressure in check. Regular brisk walks of up to 30 minutes could cut your risk of stroke by up to 27 per cent, says the Stroke Association.
It could also reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis (brittle bones). For women, bone density decreases after the menopause. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that not only can increase your bone density – as it helps strengthen, build and maintain your bones – but can also give you a vitamin D boost. Fifteen minutes outside in the sunshine, April to October, will give you enough vitamin D to help regulate the calcium you need for healthy bones. It also helps keep your joints flexible, which could keep arthritis at bay and, of course, it’s an easy way to lose weight, reducing body fat and BMI. Plus, you’ll tone up and increase muscle mass, which will speed up your metabolism. Walk for 30 minutes at two miles an hour and you’ll burn around 75 calories.
The likelihood of developing diabetes is also drastically reduced if you walk often. The Walking Works report showed that regular walking could lead to nearly 300,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes in England, as it would reduce the rise in cases linked to obesity.
Another study by Imperial College London and University College London revealed that you’re 40 per cent less likely to develop diabetes if you walk regularly rather than take the car.
Sort those everyday ailments
Light exercise, such as walking, can help speed up sluggish digestion and ease bloating and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Walking also opens up your airways, so is great for asthma. ‘Go gently at first,’ says fitness guru Rosemary Conley, who’s had asthma all her life. ‘Even a five- minute walk three times a day will make a real difference.’
It can ease a headache, too. Deep breathing in the fresh air, away from stressors that can trigger a headache or migraine, may help. Thirty minutes of brisk walking over five days could also help you sleep more easily and feel more alert during the day, according to research by Oregon State University.
Meet new friends
Walking isn’t just about keeping your body and mind healthy, it can be great for your social life, too. ‘People who walk in groups also tend to have a shared experience of wellness, and say they feel less lonely and isolated,’ says Sarah Hanson of UEA. Why not give a local group a try? You could make friends for life.