Our feet are made for walking yet, shockingly, many of us barely manage 10 minutes of brisk walking a month. Here’s why you should, and how you can, take the right steps towards good health…
One step, two steps… going for a walk every day might be a given for most people. Taking the dog out, doing the school run or popping to the shops gets the majority of us up and out of the house each day.
But research shows that a growing number of us simply aren’t walking anywhere and it is having a catastrophic impact on our health, especially when it comes to middle age.
Government body Public Health England (PHE) found recently that more than 6.3 million adults aged between 40 and 60 fail to do even 10 minutes of continuous brisk walking per month.
Why should we walk?
The more you walk, the bigger the pay-off. It might even save your life!
Health benefits for both body and mind increase in relation to the amount of exercise we do. And although PHE advises doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, even just 10 minutes of brisk walking daily can provide benefits.
Dr Mike Brannan, deputy national lead for adult health and wellbeing at PHE, says: ‘A brisk 10-minute walk every day can make us feel better in numerous ways.
‘It can get the heart pumping faster, improve our mood and reduce our risk of early death by 15 per cent.
‘Building up over time to the recommended 150 minutes of activity per week will help manage and prevent over 20 serious illnesses.’
Walking can also ease back pain and lower blood pressure, as well as help us keep to a healthier weight.
And it saves money as well as lives. Regular brisk walks, which raise the heart rate and make you warm and breathless, could prevent up to 251 deaths a year and save around £310 million in health care costs.
Fighting cancer and diabetes
Doctors believe that brisk walking could help treat type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
A study recently presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference, showed the improvement that increased exercise had on patients suffering from breast cancer.
Women who had surgery to remove a breast cancer tumour and who then followed a moderate-intensity exercise programme for eight months were less likely to die, and their disease was less likely to progress, than women who had the same surgery and who did not exercise.
Other cancer sufferers, including those with bowel and prostate cancer, also showed improvements after exercising, including an increased quality of life and the ability to cope with treatments more easily.
Dr Vicky Coyle, a Cancer Research UK scientist at Queen’s University Belfast, said that while it can be difficult to credit individual lifestyle factors with cancer survival, exercise does yield promising results.
She said: ‘Physical activity is one of the stronger links.’
How do we start?
A simple walk can ensure we live a longer, healthier life and midlife is the best time to start making improvements for the future.
As we age we should continue to be as active as possible and this means pushing your heart rate up.
Dr Brannan says: ‘Brisk walking is more than a gentle stroll. We mean walking faster than 3mph and at a pace that gets the heart rate up — imagine you’re running slightly late for a meeting, so you feel a bit warmer but could still hold a conversation.’
PHE has launched an app called Active 10, which sets targets and tracks progress over time. It shows users how much walking they are doing and where they could fit more in.
The body hopes this ‘baby step’ of 70 minutes brisk walking a week will be the first of many that people make towards exercising more and improving their health.
The app begins tracking when a person reaches a walking speed of around three miles an hour, for around 10 minutes.
Dr Brannan says: ‘It’s never too late to make lifestyle changes to improve our chances of getting and staying well. If you’re currently not getting any physical activity into your day, aiming for a brisk 10-minute walk every day is a free and easy way to start.’
So improving your health may be as easy as a walk in the park. It’s time to start putting your best foot forward.
Edited by Alexandra Grainger
How to walk like a pro
Start off with slow, short sessions. Pick a route, head out of the front door and see how 10 minutes of walking feels.
Repeat the process every day for a week and if it feels comfortable try walking for longer.
You will benefit by adopting the correct posture. By elongating your body and tightening your abdominal muscles and buttocks, you should find a natural stride.
Drink plenty of water before, during and after walking.
Incorporate stretches and always warm up and cool down.
Always try to stick to your routine. Develop a habit and do it on a regular basis.
Don’t push yourself too hard. You should aim for a ‘talking’ pace, where you have elevated breathing but you can still speak.